TAMPA — About 20 minutes after sunrise, just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, the luxury vehicles began rolling past the guarded entrance at Berkeley Preparatory School.
The Tesla coupe, followed by a Porsche and a Ford truck or two, parked near the artificial turf football field, tucked away in a well-secluded enclave of the sprawling campus. That’s where Tom Brady and about eight of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates began a two-hour throwing session.
Brady wasn’t the only quarterback. Backups Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin were there, too. But Brady was the only player wearing a bright orange practice jersey over shoulder pads with his Bucs’ helmet.
Center Ryan Jensen was there to make sure Brady received the shotgun snaps before launching dozens of passes on this humid 77-degree morning.
A few months ago, this might have seemed absurd: Brady, 42, wearing the logo and colors of another team after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots.
His arrival in Tampa Bay had been met with some false starts. He walked into the wrong house while trying to locate the one belonging to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and he got kicked out of a closed city park.
But if you had any doubt that Brady wouldn’t find a way for such a gathering away from the team practice facility — closed to players, per NFL rules, during the COVID-19 pandemic — think again.
Brady appeared to be the one organizing the route combinations and situational drills that Bucs receivers, tight ends and running backs ran Tuesday.
The NFL said there was nothing wrong with Brady working out with teammates as long as they followed recommendations and guidelines set by the state, local authorities, medical experts and the league. Last Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida was open for business to pro sports leagues. NFL teams re-opened facilities to some employees as early as Tuesday. Coaches and players still are not permitted to return unless rehabbing an injury.
So Brady and his teammates met at Berkeley Prep, with the stadium lights turned on to pierce the pre-dawn darkness. At times, like he did with receiver Mike Evans, Brady would walk through the route, showing players exactly where to make their cuts.
Brady’s arm looked live and he took advantage of the large collection of pass catchers to also get in some work on deep routes. Among those in attendance were receiver Scotty Miller, tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and running back Dare Ogunbowale.
After about an hour, the players moved into the red-zone area on the east side of the field. Then it was time for some coming-out passing drills, simulating the offense backed up deep in its own territory.
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Since signing a two-year, $50 million contract with the Bucs, Brady has been itching to get time on the practice field with his teammates. The lack of an offseason program and organized team activities are hurdles as Brady attempts to learn Bruce Arians’ offense.
Enter Berkeley Prep. While the campus has been closed to students and faculty, the school opened its doors and football field to Brady and what looked to be most of the Bucs’ offensive skill players.
Dominick Ciao, Berkeley Prep’s football coach the past 13 seasons, said that he had no knowledge of Bucs players working out at his campus. A former part-time film analyst for then-Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Ciao referred further questions to athletic director Bobby Reinhart, who did not respond to a voice mail message.
Headmaster Joseph Seivold watched portions of practice Tuesday.
Following the workout, which concluded just after 9 a.m., Brady and his teammates spent about 25 minutes on the field and in the bleachers just talking and doing some relationship building.
Shortly after agreeing to a deal with the Bucs in March, Brady was excited enough to ask for the phone numbers of every teammate. He apparently used that list to organize extensive throwing sessions like the one at Berkeley Prep.
It is possible these workouts commenced a few weeks ago. On the Dock Talk with Killer Instagram Live show, Brate acknowledged to Lightning forward Alex Killorn on May 7 that he had been working out with Brady. Then he tried to walk it back, saying they were “virtual workouts."
“Virtual workouts. And you’ve been doing them on your, um, laptop," Killorn said. “Don’t worry, that will all be edited out of the final version."
It’s also not surprising that Brady organized the session at 7 a.m. In addition to providing some protection from the heat of the day as well as some privacy, he also is able to determine which teammates are willing to rise early and make the sacrifice to work on improving their timing and chemistry with him.
Receiver Chris Godwin indicated recently that teams with new quarterbacks may suffer a bit from a lack of practice time. When asked if he had been able to throw with Brady, Godwin said he had not and it was unknown whether he participated Tuesday.
“That’s one of the things that really sucks for teams with new quarterbacks," Godwin said last week. "You can’t build that chemistry if you’re not able to get together. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to us. And I have enough faith in the fact that Tom has seen enough ball and played with enough receivers that it won’t be too much of a learning curve whenever everybody is able to get back together.”
Based on Tuesday’s workout, it looks like Brady has found a way to start building that chemistry.
Oh, and Berkeley Prep’s mascot? The Buccaneers, of course.