FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's dealing with an unfamiliar situation. For the first time since 2001, he knows he won't be the starting quarterback for the Patriots when Week 1 of the regular season arrives. Still, according to at least one teammate, he began training camp practices Thursday with his usual intensity.
"Whatever circumstance you put Tom in," tight end Rob Gronkowski said, "he’s never going to change because he comes out to practice no matter what – if he’s suspended, if he’s not suspended, if he’s playing, if he’s not playing – no matter what the circumstances are, I’ve never seen Tom Brady come out and not give it all in practice. There’s never any change in him. Whenever he’s out on the field he’s giving it all, and he’s just such a competitor."
In many ways, it was a normal practice for Brady. Early in the session, he took the first snaps with the Patriots offense, whether he was working against no defense or working in 7-on-7 situations. During one special-teams period, he threw to Gronkowski and tight end Martellus Bennett in a side session, as he often does.
Where things got weird was near the end of the practice, when Jimmy Garoppolo took the first reps in a competitive 11-on-11 session behind the first-team offensive line unit.
Later, after Brady got his chance, Garoppolo worked with the first-teamers again, and against the first-team defense, during a less competitive 11-on-11 hurry-up period. At the same time, on an adjacent field, Brady worked quickly behind the second-team offensive line.
"It’s not a change at all. It's training camp, it’s not going to be any different," Gronkowski insisted after practice when asked about the quarterback situation. All three quarterbacks had a chance to work with a variety of receivers and offensive linemen, he argued. And he was right. The All-Pro tight end caught passes from both Brady and Garoppolo over the course of the day, as did Bennett and receiver Chris Hogan.
But the end of practice was undeniably different.
Brady, a player who typically hates to relinquish practice reps, has been almost without exception the first quarterback to take snaps in team periods for the last several years. Late Thursday morning, he was not the focal point of the first-team offense for the first time in a long time. Instead, it was Garoppolo's readiness, as Bill Belichick highlighted Wednesday, that was the priority.
To Brady's credit, he looked like the same quarterback despite the change in the schedule of repetitions. He was 3-for-6 in 11-on-11 work, 5-for-8 in 7-on-7 work in the red zone, and 4-for-6 in a half-field 4-on-3 period. After having one pass batted down by a racquet held by a team staffer at the line of scrimmage, Brady completed seven of his next nine throws.
When Day 1 was over, Brady exited off of the back end of the practice fields, taking a route back to the locker room that would allow him to avoid cameras and microphones.
All-out as Brady's practice demeanor may have felt to his teammates, his departure from what must have felt like an unusual practice was equally quiet.