TAMPA — At 8:28 a.m. Friday, Tom Brady walked out of the southwest tunnel of Raymond James Stadium, checked his footing on the soggy turf, adjusted his sweat bands and gave a fist bump to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Shadows split the field in half as the sun continued to rise, and the humidity became a story line during the first series of the intrasquad scrimmage, a 16-play, 98-yard drive for a touchdown that Brady executed flawlessly.
Certainly, the six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback has performed on bigger stages. The 65,890-seat stadium was empty except for players, coaches and some assembled media.
Brady in a Bucs uniform still seems odd, but this was his first time on the home sideline with cannons firing to signal his arrival. Brady was asked if he felt any butterflies taking the field.
“Not butterflies,” he said. ’‘I’ve been in a lot of moments on the field. It’s more excitement than butterflies.
“I think this is another step in the process. For me, as a player, it’s preparing myself as best I can. Getting into the stadium, getting with my teammates, it was a good dress rehearsal, so to speak. It has its challenges and we can use these opportunities to grow and learn from one another. I thought today was a good step for us.”
Unofficially, Brady went 13 of 18 passing for 170 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate. He had two throwaways. He led the Bucs to a pair of touchdowns and a field goal in four drives against the second-team defense.
Officially, the Bucs probably have never seen a better scrimmage debut in the history of the franchise given the belief Brady transfers to every teammate.
“I thought Tom was very, very efficient and did a good job of leadership,” coach Bruce Arians said. “When you get the first long drive of the year, guys start dragging. He got their (butts) in the huddle and he got it rolling, you know? Keeping under the 25-second and 40-second clock pretty good. We weren’t close at all. But he was commanding that pretty good. Overall, I thought he had a hell of a day. Overall, I was pretty pleased.”
Running back Ronald Jones, who injured his left foot in the scrimmage, scored the first touchdown with a 1-yard leap into the end zone. Jones carried eight times for 28 yards on the drive and Brady connected with five different receivers.
Brady’s favorite receiver was Scotty Miller, who caught four passes for 84 yards, including a 45-yarder.
“He’s another great, consistent, dependable, trustworthy player,” Brady said of Miller. “Whatever we talk about, he takes it to the next practice and his play is showing everybody that he’s earned a big role. You can trust where he’s going to be, he makes the plays when they come his way. He’s really been fun to work with and fun to see grow from the minute I got here.”
There were some miscues Friday morning. Place-kicker Elliott Fry had an extra-point attempt clang off the left upright and he missed a 49-yard field goal.
Rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumbled and Williams Gholston recovered to give the ball back to Brady and the starting offense. That drive ended with Fry’s 24-yard field goal.
The Bucs starting defense played well, limiting backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Co. to a pair of field goals.
The 98-yard drive, however, was something Brady and the Bucs can learn from.
Brady got them started on second down with a 17-yard strike to Chris Godwin. He missed Miller deep before coming right back to him for a 13-yard gain and another first down. LeSean McCoy ran twice for 13 yards and Brady hit O.J. Howard for 5 yards. Two plays later, Justin Watson made a sliding catch for 17 yards and another first down.
From there, it was Jones on four straight carries, the last one launching himself over rookie linebacker Chapelle Russell before tumbling in the end zone.
“That was 15 to 16 plays in the heat and we came straight from the warmups right onto the field, so I think everybody was a little gassed and (that’s) probably pretty expected,” Brady said. “I think getting used to all that heat and humidity and the (piped-in) crowd noise — I think all those things were different variables for all of us. Hopefully, we can use the lessons and give us a little bit of experience with one another. It was definitely a bit of a challenge and something we really need. We’re going to need more of it because it’s only going to get tougher from here.”
With no preseason games, Arians had decided to hold two intrasquad scrimmages, including one next week. But after minor injuries to Jones and cornerback Carlton Davis (shoulder), he is re-thinking that plan.
Brady still has time left on the clock and he proved it again Friday. But the season opener at New Orleans (Sept. 13) is in only two weeks.
“I think the competition’s on,” Brady said. “It doesn’t start in two weeks, it’s already started. Every day that goes by we have to learn from what we’re doing, learn with each other, the plays, the corrections, all the different things that we’re really trying to get up to speed with because it’s very different with no preseason games and learning against our own team constantly (and) not traveling at all. We can try to maybe take advantage of the extra time we have — because I think there is a little extra time for practice — but it’s coming fast.
“Today was a good indicator for all of us that it’s right around the corner and we’re going to have to tighten some things up so we can be ready to go against a great football team there in a couple weeks.“