Growing Old With Tom Brady

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Growing Old With Tom Brady

Age is a funny thing. Age is a scary thing. Age is just a number and a defining characteristic. More than anything, age is confusing.

For instance, today is Tom Bradys 35th birthday.

This might sound ridiculous, but Im affected by Bradys age almost as much as I am my own. As a Boston sports fan who was born in the 80s, grew up in the 90s and believed in the impossible until February 2002, Im part of a generation thats come to be defined by Tom Brady.

We were young when he was young. The older he gets, the older we get. Over the last 11 years, weve gone from high school and college kids to functioning adults. Weve messed things up, and figured things out. Weve built careers; in some cases met wives, had children and started families. And one of the few constants has been Tom Brady. Not only playing football, but growing up right along with us.

For many of us, Brady is our last idol. The last guy that we can justifiably look up to; the only athlete who can still make a 32 year old feel like hes 12. So in a weird (and morbid) way, Bradys career has turned into an hourglass for our youth. As long hes still playing football, were all young. But when he walks away . . .

Well, what happens when the defining athlete of your generation retires?

I think it means that your generations over.

But enough depressing talk. After all, theres a good chance that I might be overly sensitive about Bradys age. For one, because our birthdays are exactly six months apart, so when he celebrates a birthday, Im a half-year older. Its a convenient reminder, and a good time for reflection. On top of that, my fathers birthday is tomorrow. So as you can see: Its an emotional two-day stretch.

My dad, Tom and I were all in the Superdome that night in February '02. Its one of the greatest memories that my dad and I have together, and certainly one of the greatest memories that Brady will ever have. I was a 22-year old college senior (the game was on my birthday), without a clue of what I wanted to do. Brady was 24 and a half, and on top of the world. My Dad was 55.

Tomorrow, hell turn 66. Today, Im 32 and a half. And that 24-year-old kid who had just become the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl is now a 35-year-old married man with two kids and another on the way.

Thats crazy. And heres where it gets confusing.

Back in 2002, or even 2007, the thought of a 35-year-old Tom Brady was terrifying. The same way the thought of me being 32 or my dad being 66 would have scared me to no end.

But today, its not so bad.

My dads healthier and more active at 66 than he was at 36. Sure, there are plenty days when I miss being 22, but to be 32 with everything Ive learned and experienced over the last 10 years under my belt, its pretty great.

As for Brady?

35s a joke. Hes a better quarterback now than he was back then. Hes still one of the Top 3 QBs in the league and has shown no signs of slowing down. Even if he does slow down, speed was never his strong suit. As long he avoids major injury (obviously), Brady can play at a high level even if it's not this high into his 40s. And by the way hes talking, don't be surprised if he does.

So, Tom Brady is 35. Maybe the end is a little closer than it was in 2002. Maybe we're all a little older, with real lives and real responsibilities. But that doesn't make us old.

After all, what is age? Yeah, its funny. Its scary. Its confusing. But really, age is what you make of it. And there's no doubt that Brady will the make it count. Good news for the Pats.

Great news for the Brady Generation.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

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Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

The Patriots find themselves in a difficult spot following Sunday's win over the Rams: They are a team that likes to lean on three-receiver sets, yet they have only three healthy receivers.

Danny Amendola suffered an ankle injury during a punt return over the weekend that further thinned an already thin position group. The healthy receivers left on the depth chart are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

The Patriots will in all likelihood make an addition to their 53-man roster at some point in order to bolster their depleted receiving group, and in a way, they've been preparing for this.

With just four true receivers on the active roster, the team has been adding and subtracting wieoutes on their practice squad for much of the year. They began the season with rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and fourth-year wideout Devin Street on the p-squad. On Sept. 14, they added DeAndrew White as a third receiver on the 10-man unit, giving them a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots gave practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have.

"I think they’ve made good progress . . . They both have been consistent," Bill Belichick said during a conference call on Tuesday. "They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.

"They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us."

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that the Patriots voluntarily increased the salary of White (from the minimum of $6,900 per week to $10,000 per week), perhaps an indicator that he's the favorite as a call-up to the 53-man roster.

White, who has been named one of New England's practice players of the week three times this season, is in his second year out of Alabama. He was signed by San Francisco in May of 2015 as an undrafted free agent, and he played in four games as a rookie, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also returned six kicks and returned one punt for the 49ers.

There are free-agent options available to the Patriots should they choose to go that route.

Keshawn Martin, who was released by the Niners on Nov. 8 and is a free agent, could be an attractive option given his punt-return experience and his understanding of the Patriots system. Others who are out there and have spent time with the Patriots include Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins.

Should the Patriots feel as though they would be straining to add a receiver to the 53-man roster, they could find some help with the depth they have at running back. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are all capable pass-catchers who have the ability to line up wide or in the slot. Foster, who was a college teammate of Lucien's for one season, played receiver as a senior at Arizona State.