By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - A chain-link fence at the end of the practice field.
That was the training aid that the greatest quarterback in Patriots history - hell, the case could be made for NFL history as well - was using on Monday afternoon.
Tom Brady, his backup Brian Hoyer and throwing guru Tom House huddled up and used that fence at the edge of the Gillette Stadium practice fields for about 15 minutes.
Like a heavyweight champion in a rundown gym or an NBA star playing on an asphalt court with netless rims, the metaphor was the same. Strip away the trappings of athletic success and the elemental things remain. The same kind of chain-link fence Tom Brady used Monday at the age of 35 could be used by any kid anywhere in America if someone showed him how to use it and the kid cared enough to want to get better.
Brady still cares. Still learns. Hoyer too.
"Every day we come out here and try to work on fundamentals," Hoyer explained. "There's probably not a quarterback around that takes fundamentals as seriously as Tom so for me to come out here and work with him every day has really improved my fundamentals. Every day there's a new drill, a new emphasis, whether it's footwork or release point or driving through the football that helps me out."
The passing of Brady's long-time throwing mentor Tom Martinez in the offseason was not unexpected but it was a blow personally and professionally for Brady. But Brady and Martinez both made sure the lessons of a few decades were written down so that, when Martinez wasn't around, they could be referenced.
We've seen Brady spend a lot of time on tweaking his mechanics this offseason. From having every throw taped during practice for later review to Monday's visit from House, the need to keep the fundamentals tight seems vital.
With House, the quarterbacks stood with their lead toe nearly touching the fence. They then rotated toward release, stopping when their lead arm hit the fence in a bent position. The aim seemed to be staying behind the ball on release as opposed to falling off to the side or sliding forward.
"Stride," was Hoyer's answer when asked the focus of House's visit. "Trying to keep your feet on the ground. You really have to make sure you have your feet on the ground. When you're a pitcher in baseball, you're on a mound and have the decline to help with the energy as you throw downhill. In football, you're throwing off a flat."
Brady worked with House during the offseason. Hoyer had never met the former MLB player whose noteworthy moments include catching Hank Aaron's record-setting home run ball and pitching for the Red Sox.
This is a big week, especially for Hoyer.
The backup is blocked out of earning the starting job here because of Brady. Hoyer will be an unrestricted free agent in March 2013. Games like Thursday's against the Saints will be like interviews.
What's he looking forward to?
"Just playing," he said. "The competition for me, preseason is like the regular season. We have the two practices but the big thing is Thursday night. You come out and practice for two weeks, you just want to play in the game."
As for stressing about March, Hoyer said, "You never know what's gonna happen. For me, the only thing I can control is how I play."
And the fundamental steps it takes to play well.