FOXBORO – Tom Brady is especially glad he’s not a rookie this year – for a couple of reasons.
“Not only because their salaries got cut in half,” said the New England Patriots quarterback, referencing the NFL’s newly ratified collective bargaining agreement.
Rookies are also tasked with an accelerated acclimation to NFL life because of the league’s 4 1/2-month lockout.
A week into his 12th training camp with the Patriots, Brady acknowledges that this one is unique.
“It’s been quite a bit different,” Brady said after Friday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “There’s a lot of work to be done, in all honesty. The time that we have on the field is so valuable. We’ve been off for six months, so, normally we have those 14 practices in the spring where, OK, you can really see where you’re at – you see where you’re conditioning is at, you see where your strength’s at, you see how your arm feels, the reads, the guys getting comfortable with guys. When you start training camp, you can really build on the work you put in. But this year’s been different.
“We can’t afford to make mistakes and get behind, because we’re already behind. It would be a tough year to be a young player, to come in and learn what we’re doing, but they’re trying the best they can.”
Fair or unfair, players’ margin for error in camp is smaller than usual.
“The learning curve has to be so fast,” Brady said. “You can’t come out here and have a bad practice, because, look, you don’t have many of them. Today we did a little bit more. Finally we’re getting into goal-line [situations]. In the springtime, in the normal year, our whole goal-line package will be installed. Now guys are doing it for the first time. It takes a lot. Guys are going to have to do a lot of extra work.”
Back in 2000, Brady had the benefit of not only coming to camp minus the aftermath of a lockout, but knowing that he wasn’t alone in learning a new playbook.
“I was very fortunate in my first year because it was Coach [Bill] Belichick’s first year,” Brady said. “He came in and installed pretty much a new offense, so everyone was really starting at the same place. I’ve been in this offense for a long time, so it’s developed over the course of going on our 12th year here. There’s a lot of things that we’ve done over the years to change it and try to make it better. It’s probably much more detailed than when we first started, but that’s what these [rookies] have to do. They have to come in and learn something that’s totally different.”
The offseason layoff certainly didn’t do Brady any favors. Coming off his second MVP season and arguably the best of his career, he’s been shaking off rust just like every other player.
“It’s been getting better,” Brady said. “To not play football for six months and come out and think you’re going to be in midseason form, I wish the game was that easy, but it’s the way it is. We’ve had seven practices, so I’ve got to continue to improve. Every day I feel better out here.”
As for those rookies, Brady feels their pain.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be a rookie this year. They’re learning, and it’s going to be tough for those guys to learn. There’s only one way to do it, and that’s to put the work in.”
Brady preaches patience with Ochocinco
It’s been a week since the Patriots acquired wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, and it hasn’t taken long for Brady to express his pleasure in working with the former Cincinnati Bengals star, a six-time Pro Bowl selection.
“It’s been fun,” Brady said. “The thing I love about him is he’s really competitive and he wants to do the right thing. He’s been in one offense for a long time, so to try to come to a new offense and learn everything that we do – the formations, the motions, the details of our route tree – it’s challenging for anybody, and to do it on such short notice is another thing.
“He’s working hard at it, and we’re working hard to be on the same page. We’re making improvements, but we still have quite a ways to go.”
Ochocinco’s dropped passes in practice don’t concern Brady, whose Patriots open preseason play on Aug. 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette.
“I think that’s just part of training camp,” said Brady, who zipped a 2-yard touchdown pass to Ochocinco in the back of the end zone during Friday’s 11-on-11 drills. “You have good days, you have bad days. The first game isn’t in a couple days, so there’s time to build toward that. No one wants to drop passes, miss blocks, throw interceptions, but we do it, we learn from it and hopefully you move forward with less of those the next day.”
O’Brien weighs in on rule changes
NFL owners voted in March to move the placement of kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line, a switch that teams must begin familiarizing themselves with during training camp.
Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien doesn’t think the change favors one side or the other.
“It affects both sides of the ball,” O’Brien said. “Obviously in coverage, the biggest adjustment for us is to get our timing to the kicker, to try to get the press zone – the zone that we get on top of the return team – to get there as fast as we can and close on him. That’s going to be a big adjustment, because normally when you get that running head start that we’ve had for years, that momentum they’ve built up for five yards before they hit that 5-yard zone where we’re standing now is completely different.
“On the other side of it, in the return game, obviously it has changed our alignment rules and our positioning, but I think it opens it up for a lot of different situations that you maybe normally wouldn’t get with the ball on the 30 as opposed to the 35. The kind of alerts you would have with a 5-yard penalty, things like that, being offsides on a [point after touchdown], now they are kicking off at the 35 and now we’re adjusting.”
News & notes
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has no limitations as he works his way back from a torn right quad that ended his season last November. “He’s going through his schedule,” O’Brien said. “Every day there are a certain number of kicks that he would normally do as a specialist. Every specialist tries to get a number of quality kicks after they warm up, which requires a lot of other kicks just to get ready to perform. He’s at his numbers and he’s increasing his numbers like he would anytime.” … NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith on Friday signed the new 10-year CBA on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, officially ending the lockout. “It’s a great day for the NFL,” Brady said. “It was exciting news when we all got the word [on Thursday] that it had been ratified and all the players really got to move forward with practice and build toward a season. We just want to play football. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, and we have the ability to do that now. I’m glad it’s all in the past. … The Patriots on Friday signed defensive end Mark Anderson and released defensive lineman Marlon Favorite. Anderson is a veteran of five NFL seasons, spent with the Chicago Bears (2006-10) and Houston Texans (2010). … Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth did not practice on Friday.