|After two years in Denver and one in St. Louis, Josh McDaniels returns and should be an asset to Brady. (AP)|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady's world is shrinking. Each year it seems he grows more famous, more of a crossover celebrity beyond the mere football sphere, and -- today at least -- he seemed perfectly fine with it. For while so much has changed for Brady since 12 years ago, when he was a gangly, awkward, sixth-round pick just hoping to make the team, there is still a refreshing normalcy to the routines of yet another training camp surrounded by so many familiar faces.
The man's every move is fodder for the gossip pages and "entertainment" web sites, and there is no real escaping that reality. So, when images of him leaping off a ledge in Costa Rica emerged on the Internet, it was going to come up as he met the media at New England Patriots training camp for the first time. He knew it. And the media knew it. When you attain a level of international fame that Brady and his model wife have, it comes with the territory.
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"I thought about making the Olympic diving team," Brady said cheekily about the "cliff diving" video, before acknowledging that "it's getting harder and harder" to find some privacy in a world where every phone is a portal to the Internet. But Brady gets it. When you are the face for major global brands, and have the kind of appeal he has, and, well, look like Tom and Gisele, and you live a jet-setting life in the offseason, you're going to show up in People magazine from time to time.
So the relative drudgery of training camp is welcomed. Brady is driven as ever, excited to work with new targets like Brandon Lloyd and energized by the return of old friends like Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth. He seemed genuinely fired up to detail the first few days of camp, still trying to get his legs under him. As a true disciple of Bill Belichick, he espouses that the closest thing the NFL has seen to a dynasty in quite some time still ain't accomplished much of anything yet and that an offensive arsenal that looks as dangerous as any in the league are just names on a training camp roster right now.
"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Brady said.
Once again, Brady will be celebrating a birthday at training camp, turning 35 on Friday. He could vividly recall, when asked Friday, who caught his first pass ever in an NFL preseason game (receiver Sean Morey), and what it felt like to be in San Francisco for that game, so close to home, with childhood heroes like Jerry Rice and Joe Montana around. He hasn't lost that aw-shucks sensibility, or his rabid competitiveness.
"I still feel like a young kid out here trying to earn a spot," he said.
Brady was only a few plays -- a missed connection with Wes Welker, in particular, in the Super Bowl -- from winning another ring. Again, on paper, the cast around him looks improved. There have been injuries and some shuffling of the offensive line, which is uncommon in these parts. But in Lloyd, Brady has a legitimate deep threat to scare safeties, something he has lacked since Randy Moss' form waned a few years ago. And his devastating tight end combination is only getting better (with solid veteran Visanthe Shiancoe added to the group for good measure). And Welker returns.
Oh, and offensive wizard Josh McDaniels, who returned to the fold late last season after two years as Denver's head coach and one as the Rams' O-coordinator, is back pulling all the strings and working with a group of players, Lloyd included, he knows very well. McDaniels sees an even better quarterback in Brady than the one he left in 2009.
"Every year, Tom gets better," McDaniels said. "And every year Tom goes through different experiences and he can't help learn from it, process it and he doesn't forget it. He's one of those unique players who can learn from a situation and then apply it going forward consistently, even if it doesn't come up that much. He can go back to it and remember it. He gets better every day and works so hard to do that, that he can't help but change for the good. And I think that really forces the rest of our guys to do the same thing."
For McDaniels, the opportunity to come back to this stellar organization, and work for his mentor in Belichick and reunite with Brady was too good to pass up (if he shines as brightly as I expect, McDaniels also will be set up quickly for another head coaching shot).
"I don't think you have the opportunity to coach a player like Tom many times in your career," McDaniels said. "I was very fortunate to have a chance the first time. We have a very good relationship. Obviously, he's a guy that you enjoy coaching, and he's challenging to coach because he's so capable of understanding the game at an elite level that it makes you want to work extremely hard, which I think we all want to do anyway. It's good to be back here."
McDaniels will serve as the fulcrum in the Brady/Lloyd vortex, a combination that has the potential to be potent. Lloyd knows the system well from playing for McDaniels in Denver, but struggled mightily earlier in his career with attitude problems and jelling with coaches and teammates. Lloyd wasn't in much of an expansive mood after this practice, saying the on-field chemistry isn't there yet.
"It just takes time," he said.
Brady is clearly tickled by the possibilities, and twice Saturday, Lloyd brought the crowd to life with acrobatic catches in drills, but he too allowed there is a ways to go.
"[Lloyd] wants to be a big part of this offense," Brady said, "and I want to help him be a big part of this offense."
I fully expect McDaniels to make that happen, and he's also uniquely qualified to understand Lloyd, who quickly wore out his welcome in San Francisco, Washington and Chicago before saving his career in Denver, where he became a league-leading receiver.
"When I first met Brandon in 2009, I had an open mind and he had an open mind," McDaniels said. "We all go through different phases in our lives and our career, and when I had an opportunity to meet and get to know him, he's a really good person. I enjoyed being around him.
"He's intelligent and he cares about his job and what he does out there and how he relates to his teamamates. He really tried to adapt to what we're doing and it's not our offense that makes him a good player, he makes himself a good player. He could fit into a lot of systems. We're fortunate to have a relationship to where he can help us win here."
This could be a magical season for Lloyd, Brady, McDaniels and the rest of this organization. It wasn't that long ago the Pats flirted with perfection, they should be better on defense, and their division is hardly formidable. Many expect them to run away with the AFC East, in fact, and, ho hum, see Brady hoisting that Lombardi Trophy yet again come February.
But Brady realizes this is anything but the norm for most. It has been a luxury to spend his entire career here with one head coach, staying in a place where, when other may leave (be they McDaniels or Gaffney or Stallworth or others) they quite frequently long to come back.
"I love playing quarterback for this team," Brady said. "It's a great responsibility to have, and I appreciate it every day. ... My life is pretty much built around that."
Both veterans shined for the Pats last season. Waters' absence could be contract-related, in the second year of a team-friendly deal. Carter is coming back from season-ending quad surgery but told me recently he is making good progress, running more than 2½ miles on the beach. Many expect Carter to eventually re-sign here, though numerous teams would have interest in the pass rusher.
• Recently signed TE Shiancoe, who joins what was already the league's best tight end group, has impressed teammates and coaches already with the tremendous shape he is in.
• The Patriots are still carrying an open roster spot, with 89 players here and the roster limit at 90.