The steady stream of social media posts from Tom Brady this offseason were just loaded with lovable whimsy. Upbeat, self-deprecating with an undercurrent of “Let’s f****** go!”
It’s all so relentlessly optimistic that people forget that Tom Brady is one of the most ruthless, relentless, perfection-driven players in the history of American professional sports.
He isn’t in his 20th year and chasing a seventh Super Bowl ring because he’s wicked, wicked nice. He’s doing those things because he’s maniacally competitive with a drive that leaves teammates with a choice: get on board or get run over.
And what vehicle has Brady been provided with to drive in pursuit of No. 7? A bike. With training wheels.
Julian Edelman’s injured left thumb is going to be fine. It’s been a couple of weeks healing already.
But look what Brady is surrounded by as camp begins. Or not surrounded by. No Edelman. No Rob Gronkowski. No Sony Michel. A left tackle to be named later.
Brady in Year 20, isn’t in some 700-level college class. He’s on the rug playing blocks with wide receivers Braxton Berrios, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Myers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski and Damoun Patterson.
He’s providing orientation to newly-arrived veterans with “meh” resumes like Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris. Tight end? A position the team’s leaned on for a decade? It’s Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse. Running back?
Thank God for James White and — I will reluctantly add, Rex Burkhead.
The way the team looks on July 22 doesn’t portend what they’ll look like on January 22. Everybody knows that.
But training camp isn’t all about teaching and helping your players to learn to walk and then run in the NFL so that they’ll be good by Halloween.
It’s about competition and figuring out what works. It’s about fine-tuning. It’s about beating your own defense in practice so that you can do the same when the season starts.
Unfortunately for Brady, he’s going to be fighting one-handed in practice against a defense that was built without the same corner-cutting the Patriots annually do on offense.
I don’t think Stephon Gilmore is going to lose very often to N’Keal Harry this summer. Nor will Jason McCourty be abused by Phillip Dorsett or Patrick Chung/Jamie Collins be undressed by Watson.
It’s going to be tough sledding for the meticulous Brady, and when failed reps pile up, he’s going to enter a state of high agitation.
But despite that agitation, he’ll make it work.
Forget, “Do Your Job” or “Ignore the Noise” or “We’re Still Here,” the most apt slogan for Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should be, “We’ll Figure It Out.”
Last year was a perfect example of that. With Edelman suspended for a quarter of the season and Gronk diminished by injury, Brady was trying to make it work with Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson. In a panic move that worked for 11 weeks, the team traded for Josh Gordon. But they morphed the offense, threw it a million times to James White and embraced a power-running game. You know the rest.
You think if Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger were playing for the Patriots last year they would have made it through weekly dissections of their decline without saying through tears, “Look what they gave me?!”
No. But Brady did.
And now — eight months from having his contract expire — he’s going to suck it up and try to do it again with a lesser cast and still at big, big savings. Because that’s what he always does.
Saying the brief loss of Edelman is actually good news is putting whipped cream on a turd. Would it have been good for Peter McNeeley to fight Mike Tyson with a broken right hand so he could work on his left?
I already believed we were going to see a training camp bloodbath when the Patriots starting offense and defense squared off. Now, without Edelman, it’s going to be even harder for productive work to get done.
This whole “figure it out as we go, September is an extended training camp” approach is a nice luxury for the Patriots to enjoy, but everyone really needs to remember that the reason it works is because Tom Brady is a steel-reinforced safety net for Bill Belichick.
And that becomes more apparent every year.
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