An enormous 12-shaped cake and fans serenading could mean only one thing: It's Tom Brady's birthday.
"It's awesome," backup QB Brian Hoyer chuckled when asked about the fans singing 'Happy Birthday.' "Obviously, he means a lot to this entire area and the fans. It's a great way they show their appreciation."
Now 41 years old, TB12 appeared to receive a gift from the coaching staff Friday by doing little more than warming up in the beginning and running the conditioning hill at the end of practice. He spent most of the two-hour session watching Hoyer take command of the Patriots offense.
Apparently, the team had some other surprises in store for Brady on his special day.
"Yeah, we'll have a couple of things here," head coach Bill Belichick smirked.
"I did not give him anything for his birthday yet," admitted wide receiver Julian Edelman. "It's hard to shop for a guy who has everything."
Throughout these first eight days of camp, teammates have routinely raved about Brady's longevity and sustained performance.
"I was talking to somebody the other day," safety and fellow co-captain Duron Harmon shared earlier in camp, "and I said, 'I don't know how he's played 19 years. I don't know how Jerry Rice played 21 years.' It's a testament to what they do, how much they put into this, obviously, how much he takes care of his body when it comes to nutrition and body work. I mean, he's the best of the best out there."
"It's amazing," marveled wide receiver Chris Hogan. "He's a great guy to look up to and try to emulate his work ethic, how he comes out here. You wouldn't know that it's his 19th training camp."
"He's the same old Tom that I know. Nothing's really changed," added Hoyer. "Someone asked me that last week. I said, 'Just the grey hair.' It's inspiring for me to be around him, because you see a guy who's accomplished so much, but still has the drive and passion to come out here. I joked with him today and said, 'How many 41-year-olds are running up a hill in full pads right now, in the entire world?'
"So, for me to see someone I look up to as a mentor and role model still doing it – I feel old at times and I'm only 32 – it's fun. I like to be competitive with him and we have a lot of fun with that."
Brady didn't just receive, he also did some giving of his own on his birthday, spending several minutes signing fans' autographs after Friday's practice.
Julian both judge and jury
From a layperson's perspective, Edelman doesn't look like a player who started camp only 11 months removed from a major knee injury. Despite looking completely normal and natural running his routes, catches passing, fielding punts, and eluding defenders, the 32-year-old receiver continues to render harsh verdicts about his play this summer, just as he did a week earlier when he first took reporters' questions.
"It's been a grind," he maintained. "Honestly just trying to get your legs to – you're compounding day after day after day after day. When you're working in the offseason, you may put three together – I think we're on what, eight today? So you're always trying to go out and get better and I have to do a lot better.
"I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more. I don't have my camp legs, I don't have football legs and it's evident out there. You get tired, you create bad habits, you don't run your routes right and you get yelled at in meetings for it. I'm expecting to do that because I got to pick it up. I wasn't as good as I want to be today and feeling that's because I'm not in the best shape right now."
What can Edelman possibly do to improve?
"Just keep on going out and you grind," he suggested. "You keep on when you're tired, when you don't feel well. You got to be able to perform when things aren't going great and that's what this does. That's what eight days in a row does and that's what going out in training camp – there's no light at the end of the tunnel right now. You got to go out and embrace it and take advantage of each day."
Might seeing action in a preseason game help?
"Definitely," replied Edelman. "Ultimately, I'm more anxious to see how I feel tomorrow and what I can do and go from there."
There was no sign of veteran wide receiver Eric Decker on the Patriots practice field Friday. Numerous media reports this week say he'll eventually ink a one-year deal with New England, but as of today's practice, that hadn't happened.
"Any announcements that we have on personnel will be when they're completed, if they're completed," Belichick emphasized before his team's morning session.
"Yeah, I kind of refrain from commenting on anybody unless they're actually on our team."
Meantime, NFL Network reported after practice that the Patriots had worked out another veteran receiver this week, although Decker remains the priority.
Buy: Cordarrelle Patterson – The free agent receiver and kick returner has impressed with his one-handed, highlight-reel catches during drills and team periods, including another one again Friday.
Sell: Brian Hoyer – In his first extensive work with the first-team offense this summer, the backup QB struggled with consistency.
Play of the Day: Patterson and Hoyer connected during one team period play when the quarterback fired a pass to the left front pylon, where CB Ryan Lewis looked like he had Patterson covered perfectly. Patterson reached his left arm out, however, and secured the ball by bringing it to his body as he fell to the turf in bounds with Lewis still hanging on him.
Quote of the Day: "My dad told me age is just a number." ~ Bill Belichick