TAMPA — The arm seems quick and strong as he zips spirals with authority during training camp practice. What stands out more is the way Tom Brady passes out compliments. Whether aiming them at a receiver, tight end or running back, praise is delivered with deliberate accuracy to his new Bucs teammates.
“Way to go, Juice! Good route, Shady! Nice catch, Scooter!”
Brady is a quick study and knows all the handles of his pass catchers. There’s RoJo, CG, J-Mick and J-Wat.
Scotty Miller, drafted in the sixth round from Bowling Green last year, is Scooter. “He’s pretty much drilled that one home,” Miller said.
Superlatives were slung Miller’s way like footballs after Brady watched him catch four passes for 84 yards, including a 45-yarder, in the team’s only intrasquad scrimmage. A year ago, Miller caught 13 passes for just 200 yards as the team’s fifth wideout.
“He’s just another great, consistent, dependable, trustworthy player,” Brady said. “Everything we talk about, he retains, and he takes it to the next practice. He’s displaying things and he’s showing to everybody that he deserves a big role. You can trust where he’s going to be’ he makes the plays when they come his way.”
Trust is everything to Brady, 43, who admits he will freeze a player out during a game if the bond is broken. “You can play him, but I’m not throwing him the ball.”
For the past month in training camp, Brady has been building confidence in Juice (O.J. Howard), Shady (LeSean McCoy), CG (Chris Godwin) RoJo (Ronald Jones), J-Mick (Jaydon Mickens) and J-Wat (Justin Watson). Mike Evans is simply Mike. “I can’t say enough good things about him,” Brady said.
Brady is the proverbial coach on the field who can direct every position. His patience seems to have conquered imprecision. If a receiver doesn’t run the route the way Brady demands, he will pull him aside, immediately, and diagram the mistake with a finger on his jersey.
Leading into Sunday’s opener at New Orleans, Brady is simultaneously calming and firing up his offense.
But if his 20-year career in New England is any indication, the heat and intensity Brady dishes out is about to be dialed up a level that Bucs players and coaches have never seen from a quarterback.
Harsh words may be mixed in with high fives. Brady has been known to rail on teammates in the huddle and cut into an offensive coordinator or two on the sideline.
Some spice with the nice
Some of Brady’s blowups are legendary.
There was the time he flipped out during a Sunday night game at Pittsburgh in 2010. He waved his fist, yelled during huddles, hollered at linemen for mistakes and was visibly animated during sideline meetings. He willed the Patriots to a 39-26 win that night.
There was the boiling teapot moment the next season, in the fourth quarter of a game against Washington. The Patriots were leading by a touchdown and threatening to score again when Brady was intercepted in the end zone. Brady jumped receiver Tiquan Underwood for not making a better effort to come back to the ball. Coordinator Bill O’Brien took offense, and the two had to be separated by head coach Bill Belichick, among others.
Last season, it was less of a tirade and more supplication as Brady pleaded with receivers during a Sunday Night Football game at Houston to be “quicker, faster, more explosive” and “less robotic.”
There are plenty of intense moments on the field in every NFL game, but Brady’s competitiveness always burns hotter. At New England, Brady didn’t have to police teammates to be disciplined in their assignments or plead for them to take every practice as seriously as he did.
Will his Bucs teammates have the belly for it?
‘‘I’m trying to just feel it out,” Brady said. “When we need a little spark, try to provide that. When we need a little pick-me-up, provide that. I try to just get a feel on a daily basis and I try to keep a really consistent level of intensity.
“I think the competition is on. ... 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 trying to really get up to speed with because it’s very different with no preseason games and learning against our own team constantly.”
In fact, Brady relayed his sense of urgency following a poor practice by the offense a few weeks ago.
‘‘It was an impromptu thing,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He said, ‘Hey guys, we only get so many reps and we’ve got to make it count. We’ve only have so many days. It’s not like we have (organized team activities). We missed a lot time, we can’t miss a rep, let alone a period or a day. We’ve got to be spot on every day.’ It was very good. Very well-received.”
Culture change or shock?
You hear a lot about changing the culture of the Bucs, a franchise that has not reached the postseason in 12 years and has not won a playoff game since Super Bowl 37 at the end of the 2002 season.
But Brady is the culture.
Most Bucs players admit to being starstruck the first time they met the six-time Super Bowl champion. But they know Brady is only here to win.
“He’s the GOAT,” Evans said. “It’s crazy. He’s a superstar, the most accomplished player in our game, in history, and he’s just like everybody else. He works extremely hard. He’s always taking care of his body. He loves his family, he loves family time and he’s just cool. He’s a real down-to-earth guy and he’s already up there as one of my favorite teammates and we’ve only had a few practices.”
When asked what it was like to have a personal relationship with a legendary player, Evans said,”‘He’s trying to turn me into a living legend as well, so I’m appreciative of that.”
Brady has spent time getting to know many of his teammates on a personal level, taking a few to dinner with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.
“These guys (are who) you go to battle with and you compete hard with,” Brady said. “You gain a different level of love for them as people because you see the way they compete, the way they treat people and the competitors they are on the field, what they do off the field with their families and the community. It’s just been really great to see.”
Arians has experience coaching iconic quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. But his offensive philosophy, which emphasizes getting five eligible receivers into every route and taking shots downfield, is dissimilar to what Brady has run in New England beyond the terminology.
That’s why Brady formed a fast friendship with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who is three years younger. In fact, he competed against Brady as a quarterback with the Steelers. But it’s only the second year for Leftwich calling plays in Arians’ system.
“The way he sees the game is a beautiful thing for quarterbacks,” Leftwich said. “I wish everybody could see it this way — just around the league or here — the way he sees it. It’s a pleasure coaching him. It’s fun coaching him. Just picking his brain, just putting him in situations, learning everything we can.”
Give and take
Brady is an unlikely Messiah for the Bucs, but both stand to benefit. Brady gets the best assemblage of weapons on one team that he’s ever had. Those players get to watch the most intense player in the NFL try to dominate every snap in every practice every day.
Howard, Miller and Watson could wind up playing enormous roles for the Bucs. Evans and Godwin already are Pro Bowl players, but the national attention Brady draws could make them superstars.
“I think those guys had to have a lot of confidence going out there to Berkeley (Preparatory School) telling him what to do,” Arians said. “’This is how we do it. This is how it’s called. You called it 2 flip wide, we call it flip right.’ He was learning from them as much as they were learning from him. So there was a good collaboration. When you tell Tom Brady, and he says, cool. ’Hey, that’s Tom Brady. I must be somebody.’
“He’s working on their routes and continually coaching guys. ‘Hey, you’re slowing down when you come out of your break.’ It’s been said 1,000 times, but when it’s said by him, it has more meaning.”
Brady knows there are no shortcuts. What he is attempting to do won’t be easy, particularly during a pandemic with no offseason workouts or preseason games.
“We have to work hard at that communication, we have to build trust with one another so that the trust we can anticipate,” Brady said. “Good anticipation leads to great execution and great execution over a game is going to lead us to a great margin of error in terms of winning and losing. Then, if you build on that, it leads to a good month. That leads to a good two months (and) it leads to a good season. I think you have to focus on what the process is, and that’s a daily basis. Today was the most important day because it’s the only one we had.”
Godwin insists Bucs receivers already have had a few glimpses of Brady’s intolerance for mistakes, his own and those made by his offensive teammates, including guys who block for him. None of it is personal, but the critiques need to be taken to heart and not dismissed.
“We’re starting to see the fiery edge of him come out,” Godwin said. “I fully expect that we’re going to be in situations where we hit adversity and there’s going to be tough conversations, but with all of our guys being team-first guys, we understand that these things aren’t coming from a place of malice. We’re not out there attacking people’s character. It’s just the fact of the matter of we have to be better in order for us to get to where we need to be.
“We’re going to have to hold each other accountable, so I fully expect for that to happen, and when it does, I expect guys to take that criticism and really flip it and make the play the next time.”
Brady is keeping a positive vibe with Scooter, Juice, RoJo, Shady and all the others. But Sunday’s game may test that trust.
“He’s gotten on guys’ (butts),” Arians said. “It’s like hollering 20 yards apart. ’What are you doing on that route? You can’t do that!’ And they’re like, ‘I (screwed) it up.’ It’s just that the camera is on him while he’s sitting on the bench.
“Tom’s frustration level (in New England last season) is what I think we all saw. We really didn’t know how big a frustration level that was especially when we watched him on the sideline last year. That’s why he’s here now.”