NASHVILLE – Tom Brady in the hot Nashville sun on a Thursday morning in 2019, three weeks into his 20th NFL training camp, wearing a blood-red jersey and ripping passes through holes in the Titans defense.
His exertion level appears to be at about a 5/10 while Tennessee defenders scramble too late to cover up receivers Brady had, with a half-twist of his hips and a blur of an arm, found open on their watch.
There are thousands of images we all have stored on our mental hard drives of Tom Bleeping Brady. This one of the 42-year-old on a year-long audition for his job, floating peacefully along on these so-called "uncharted waters," dicing defenders half his age while throwing to receivers he just met? It's an interesting one.
A red-zone, 11-on-11 session. Brady's first two passes go to Gunner Olsweski, an undrafted converted corner from Division II Bemidji State. The first goes for an easy touchdown.
On the sidelines in states of disrepair are the receivers the team supplied him with for this year: first-round pick N'Keal Harry. Former first-rounder Phillip Dorsett. Former first-rounder Demaryius Thomas. Old reliable Julian Edelman. Somewhere, there's another first-rounder who's on the Patriots reserve-suspended list, Josh Gordon. Maurice Harris, a free agent signing, is nowhere to be seen, injured during Wednesday's practice.
At one point, as Brady surveys the defense, Olszewski suddenly begins to dart toward him in motion. Brady raises his hand and stares at him. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tells Olszewski to go back. No motion. Brady lowers his hand and resumes surveying.
By nightfall on this Thursday, Aaron Rodgers will bang out of the Packers preseason game with back tightness. Out in Indianapolis, the Colts will continue wringing their hands about Andrew Luck's availability for Week 1.
Meanwhile, here's Brady. At 42. Punching the clock. Happily, by all appearances during these practices. Employee No. 12. Ready to serve.
Practice ends. Brady meets the media. In precisely three weeks, the NFL's regular season will open.
Brady is asked about the receivers he's working with currently: Olszewski, second-year slot Braxton Berrios. Journeyman Dontrelle Inman. Promising undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.
"Those guys are working hard, and I think training camp's an interesting time with a lot of bodies," Brady says, ever-diplomatic. "There's a lot of guys in and out. Some years, you might have three guys set or four guys set, and I think this year, we haven't really had that. So it's good work for the quarterback to just make a read and then make a throw. Whether we come up with it or not, at least we're going to the right place and making a good, decisive play. So there's still a lot to be gained with guys moving in and out, and that's just the way it's been."
It is what it is, in other words.
For a player as meticulous as Brady who was so fine-tuned with retired tight end Rob Gronkowski that he could tell what Gronk was thinking by watching his body language as he sprinted downfield, working with a collection of blank slates is less than ideal while the clock ticks down to the start of the season.
"That's the learning curve, I think, for a lot of players and being on the same page," Brady says when asked about gaining the trust in his untested teammates.
"I think the chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver or a quarterback and tight end is so important because it's all anticipation," he continued. "If you're waiting for things to happen in the NFL, you're too late. You've got to just anticipate and expect them to be a certain way, and that's how they turn out. I have, obviously, a lot of experience. I know where guys should be, so I'm trying to tell them, ‘If you want the ball, this is where you've got to be,' which is hopefully good learning for those guys, and it's good teaching for me."
It's an interesting position Brady finds himself in this season. This "year-to-year" approach to his football future when he's stated time and again his desire to play past this season wasn't his first choice. But it's reality.
It's also reality that, working with unproven receivers and a thrown-together solution at tight end is not a recipe for him to put together the kind of statistical season that will make the Patriots rush back to the bargaining table and re-up with him at the going rate for the game's best quarterbacks.
But Brady remains Spongebob in shoulder pads. Delighted to get to work each day, ready to earn this month's golden spatula.
As for the mass of injured receivers and the dwindling time before the season begins?
"I mean, I don't think that's really in my control. I think for the guys who are out there, they're trying to get the work they need to do, and I think there was good, competitive work," he said. "You're going against Malcolm (Butler), Logan (Ryan), Adoree' (Jackson) - those are three really good corners. They've got two very good safeties, a good group of linebackers, a good scheme. Whoever's in there has got to get to work, so it was a good couple of days."
The week isn't over yet. Saturday, the week with the Titans will conclude with the team's second preseason game. Brady is expected to play but claimed he hasn't yet received his work order.
"I just expect to play, and if he (Bill Belichick) says, "You're not playing," then I'm not playing," said Employee No. 12. "I think there's a lot of things that factor into his decisions, but I'm not involved in any of those, so I just show up and practice. That's been my role, that's been my job, so I'm trying to show up and do a good job."
Show up and do a good job. Do what he can control. And let the chips fall where they may.
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