By Ian R. Rapoport
FOXBORO - A thick, black brace hugging his surgically repaired left knee, Tom Brady jogged toward the 15-yard line to take part in individual drills. And the crowd erupted.
The Patriots quarterback offered a quick wave, his subtle gesture acknowledging at 9:57 a.m. yesterday what the 4,024 in attendance at Gillette Stadium’s upper practice fields came to see.
Two years after his record-setting offensive show and a perfect regular season, and less than one year after tearing knee ligaments in the team’s opening game, Brady was back leading the Pats.
To teammates, nothing had changed besides the calendar.
“He looked just like Tom,” receiver Greg Lewis said.
With a few additions, perhaps.
A slight limp. A brace that was hidden by sweatpants during minicamp. A cautious gait, at times.
Still, there he was.
“It’s always good to see Tom out there,” coach Bill Belichick said.
Even with receivers Randy Moss and Joey Galloway resting during the morning session, Brady’s presence conjured up thoughts of his prolific 2007.
“That’s the plan,” receiver Wes Welker said. “That’s what we spend minicamp on, trying to get our timing down, working on new stuff, and trying to get better at old stuff.”
Even the team’s newcomers, like grizzled veteran running back Fred Taylor, couldn’t resist gushing.
“Playing these guys a few times in the playoffs, you look over and say, ‘Hey, we can go over and beat that team.’ What do they do that we don’t do?’ ” Taylor said. “But then when you get here, you see (Brady’s) passion, the way he studies, how demanding he is of his players, the leadership, it just jumps right out. You see why he’s a proven winner.”
Brady has three Super Bowl wins and one MVP to his name. But last season, while he battled the remnants of his injury, Matt Cassel filled in to lead the Pats to an 11-5 record but no playoff appearance.
“You’d be lying if you said there wasn’t a sour taste in your mouth,” running back Kevin Faulk said. “You just let that fuel you.”
Although Brady has appeared at minicamps and other organized activities this offseason, teammates saw him in full pads for the first time in just less than a year. If the Michigan product was trying to make a renewed impression, consider it done.
Late into the morning practice, as sun turned into a downpour, Brady never relented. It was not missed.
“Throughout the monsoon or rain storm, he was fired up,” Lewis said. “ ‘Let’s get up to the huddle, let’s break the huddle, let’s get out there and get this thing right or get this corrected.’ I like that. I want to be a part of that.”
With 14 days until the preseason opener against the Eagles, Belichick said there is no schedule for Brady and cautioned the QB may need an acclimation period. That may have been evident in the afternoon, when he underthrew several deep passes.
“The lag time between passing camp and training camp, it takes everyone a while to get to where they want to be,” Belichick said.
Don’t tell that to Brady or his teammates, though.
“I don’t think he expects that, I don’t think we expect that,” Welker said. “We don’t really look to have any setbacks or having Tom rusty or anything. We’re planning on pushing forward.”