Tom Brady has worked with a wide variety of weapons on his Patriots offense over the years.
While New England has almost always found a way to be among the best teams in football at the end of the season, Brady's offense has certainly reached varying levels of success. Each season is a process of hard work, improvement and personnel cohesion.
That's been especially true in 2018. Brady opened the year without receivers Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. He's played both with and without tight end Rob Gronkowksi and impressive rookie running back Sony Michel.
Along the way, Brady has expressed optimism in regards to what the 2018 New England offense can be when it's healthy and hits its stride.
Friday afternoon in his weekly press conference in the media work room at Gillette Stadium Brady was asked if he felt the Patriots offense was close to reaching its potential.
"I don't think we're there, certainly not," Brady said. "I think we need some more time together. We need to be kind of battle tested in these games. We've had a long run of practices. But, again, there have been a lot of people that have been in and out. So when everyone is together it's fun to kind of watch us go and watch us practice and see the different mismatches that we can get and different guys making plays. I think it's really fun. Great offensive football is about different guys making plays in the roles that they have.
"That's part of where we are at is trying to build week to week on what we're doing. I don't think we're a finished product. We'll still keep working at it and part of it is going out every day with the pedal to the metal and just trying to do the best we can do."
As he's done so often in recent weeks and months, Brady expressed great praise for Gordon and the way he's approached his job in New England, saying it's "fun to see" the receiver work and learn the offense.
Beyond his thoughts on the offense, here are some of other takeaways from Brady's eight-plus minute meeting with the media.
Vrabel from TD TE to opposing coach: It doesn't seem like it was that long ago – little more than a decade, really – that Brady was throwing touchdown passes to Mike Vrabel, New England's linebacker who was a part-time, goal-line tight end. Now, Vrabel is the head coach in Tennessee, preparing to try to stop his former teammate. It's a pretty unique situation, but Brady made it clear that it's no surprise that Vrabel not is a coach, but one who has ascended the ladder quite quickly.
"He's a great person. He was a great teammate," Brady said. "I'm sure he's brought those things to the locker room being really just a mentally and physically tough player. And I'm sure he wants his players to be the same. They're playing hard. They have confidence as a team. They win in different ways.
"That's kind of what he's always been about, just getting the job done. He's definitely been someone that was an underdog his entire career. But he was a great player and is doing a great job as a coach."
Ryan/Butler moved on to "some really great contracts": Vrabel is far from the only connection between Brady's Patriots and the Titans. Among the former Brady teammates suiting up for the Titans are cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. Over the years Brady faced off plenty against the two cover men on the practice fields in New England, giving him a longer scouting report than he has other defenders that he faces.
"We had a lot," Brady said of reps battling on the practice field. "I really enjoyed playing with those guys and playing against them. They certainly challenged us on every play. They've gone on to have some really great contracts. I'm happy for them. They really earned it. I think when you are a great player you get the opportunity to do that. I know we can't keep everybody, but I'm obviously happy for them and what they've accomplished. They were hugely impactful in what we were trying to do in the roles that they played.
"Logan was a great player. Still is. Incredible awareness and just such a smart player.
"Malcolm, I've always loved playing against him. In practice it was always very competitive. He's a very competitive person. He wants to try to win every play."
Edelman "looks the same as he's always looked" after ACL: It's not a story that's gotten a lot of attention since his return, but Julian Edelman has certainly looked a lot like his old self after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Despite sitting out four games to a league suspension, Edelman is second on the Patriots with 31 catches for 322 yards with a pair of touchdowns through nine games.
Brady, who knows firsthand how hard it is to come back from a torn ACL, has been "absolutely" impressed with his slot receiver's ability to do his job once again.
"Julian's been such a great player for our team. I think his mental and physical toughness are just unmatched in a lot of ways," Brady said. "I have so much confidence in him. He really does all the dirty work for us. He's so scrappy and goes in there and blocks hard. He catches balls over the middle. We put him in a lot of different positions and he always seems to come through for us. Battling what he's really had to battle and come back from is impressive in itself. There are a lot of guys that go through those injuries and don't come back the same and Julian, to me, looks the same as he's always looked."