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Tom Brady greets rookies, comes face-to-face with biggest challenge

The Bucs' iconic quarterback leaves some rookies in awe, but he is focused on getting up to game speed.

TAMPA — Tom Brady has a quick mind and a quick release, and he certainly seems to be up to speed with the terminology of the new Bucs offense.

But the soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback has had no way to replicate the tempo of a regular-season game. Preseason games have been cancelled due to the pandemic. And even though Brady has remained in impeccable shape, it’s not the same as having a normal offseason to prepare for the Saints defense. The Bucs are set to open the season in New Orleans on Sept. 13.

On Tuesday, Bucs coach Bruce Arians was asked what may keep Brady awake at nights as he begins his 21st NFL season with a new team.

”I think his big concern is having no live reps up until now, you know?” Arians said. ”Missing all those reps in the spring, especially against a defense like ours where he’s going to see multiple looks all the time. And then just getting into game shape. And getting that reaction time down. I think he’ll know to go with the ball, it’s just a matter of putting him in enough situations — full-speed situations — that he’s ready to play the game.”

Related: Who needs the preseason? These Bucs do

Both COVID-19 tests were negative for Brady last week, and he went to work inside the AdventHealth Training Center with other quarterbacks and rookies Monday.

Even though he had numerous workouts with more than a dozen new teammates during the spring and summer at Berkeley Prep, the six-time Super Bowl winner for the Patriots has been playing in the NFL as long as some of the Bucs’ first-year players have been alive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, far right, is seen along with other Bucs players during a private workout June 23 at Berkeley Prep. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Linebacker Chapelle “Deuce” Russell, a seventh-round pick from Temple, was a bit awestruck when he encountered Brady for the first time Tuesday.

”Tom Brady said what’s up to me today ... (Yeah), that’s the tweet.”

When Russell took some heat on social media for his wide-eyed wonderment, he responded: “Lol it’s funny how social media gassin my tweet like ya’ll don’t want to meet Tom Brady, too.”

Arians said he will begin meeting regularly with Brady and the quarterbacks this week. While he was unable to monitor the workouts at Berkeley Prep, he said the lack of an offseason, organized team activities and a minicamp could have an adverse effect on play in the NFL early in the season.

”I think it’s definitely going to take a hit,” Arians said. “You’re not going to be in the same football shape as you would’ve had you had all spring, all the learning that takes in the spring, and a true training camp with four preseason games to look at a lot of young players. So yeah, it’s going to take a hit.”

As for all those workouts? Arians didn’t see film of any of them, if film even exists.

Arians said Brady was able to build some chemistry on and off the field with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, tight ends O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and running backs Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale.

“I really had no communication,” Arians said of the workouts. ”We couldn’t film it or anything like that and didn’t really have a lot of conversation with Tom other than there was a good turnout, they were getting a lot of things done and it was a good team-building experience. It doesn’t replace practice, but it’s the closest thing you can get.”

Not able to participate were rookie players, including potential key contributors like running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday.

As of Tuesday, no players have decided to opt out, including left tackle Donovan Smith, who said earlier this month that playing amid a pandemic with a wife and newborn daughter at home may be ”too risky.‘”

Related: Bucs expect Donovan Smith in camp but will prepare for his absence

“I have no had any discussions with Donovan,” Arians said. ”I expect him to report on time. Obviously, it’s a personal choice for guys to do this and I respect their choice.”

Should Smith opt out, Arians said that rookie Tristan Wirfs, the Bucs’ first-round pick from Iowa, could move from right tackle to left tackle. Other candidates to protect Brady’s blind side would be veterans Joe Haeg and Brad Seaton.

Brady, however, has enough to worry about for now. His first test will come in training camp against an improving Bucs defense, which will have to help sharpen him for the regular season.

“I think it’s amazing,” Arians said of the impact Brady’s presence has on the team. “Your guys know when he walks in the huddle, it’s different. This guy has got six rings and knows what he’s doing.

“You know, all the guys that have been working out with him see his intensity level even at those types or workouts and they only know they’re going to intensify when we get out there for real. So, yeah, it’s been great. You would’ve hoped we would’ve had spring practice so all of them could’ve gotten over the awe, especially the young players, of Tom Brady walking into the locker room and (Rob Gronkowski). But we’ll get through that in a week. Maybe each guy will have enough (guts) to go talk to him.”