TAMPA — For the first time since winning the Super Bowl, Tom Brady is throwing footballs again at the Bucs’ training complex.
The quarterback and about 10 teammates, including backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate, and receivers Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, held their impromptu passing camp at the AdventHealth Training Center Friday morning.
“Really pleased and excited to see the guys working together,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said Friday. “Zoom meetings have been excellent. We’ll be ready for minicamp to start a new journey.”
Arians had offered Brady a chance to hold the throwing sessions at the Bucs’ facility. He promised there would be no coaches and the players could come and go as they please and have access to everything from practice fields to the locker room and weight room.
Arians was concerned that if an injury occurred to a player while working out away from the facility, their contract would not be guaranteed.
“Last year was so different. It was a pandemic,” Arians said Tuesday. “This year, they can be here. Like I said, they wouldn’t be practicing, but they could be working on this field. I’d love to see them all out here together.”
Apparently, Brady finally took Arians up on that offer, as the group took the field around 7 a.m. Brady wore a creamsicle jersey but no helmet and a light brace on his left knee, which underwent a surgical procedure in February.
Brady appeared to move easily, and his arm looked as strong as it did during the 2020 season as he ripped a seam route to Gronkowski, who made a juggling catch.
The workout looked like the ones Brady held a year ago at Berkeley Prep during the pandemic.
Brady was vocal, yelling praise to his receivers after a catch. He also was a coach on the field, walking players through routes.
This time however, the workout did not include any defensive players as it did in the latter days at Berkeley Prep.
On Monday, Brady posted pictures of his passing camp on Instagram that were held about a quarter mile away at the Yankees’ spring training complex just south of Raymond James Stadium.
Brady gave an impassioned plea on a conference call with the NFL Players’ Association a few weeks ago, telling players to stay strong and not participate in organized team activities and the voluntary offseason workout program.
No professional baseball player is throwing 95 miles her hour in mid-December, Brady was quoted as saying on the call by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Brady also encouraged players to negotiate agreements with coaches from their respective teams.
The Bucs cut back the number of OTAs from 10 to six. They began Tuesday and will continue next week. The offseason ends with a mandatory minicamp June 7-9.
Arians said Tuesday that there were no negotiations with the Bucs’ veterans.
“I just told them, ‘Don’t be here. I’d love to have you here in meetings, watching film, doing some team-building,’” Arians said. “We’ve got some guys who will come in and out. But as far as if you were a starter, you weren’t going to be on the field, anyway.”
Brady’s informal workouts last year were even more critical, since NFL facilities were closed and he was learning a new offense for the first time in 20 seasons. He also did not have familiarity with any receiver except Gronkowski.
Despite struggling to a 7-5 start, Brady led the Bucs to eight straight wins, including a 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super 55. He finished the regular season by passing for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
NFL players would like to reclaim the offseason as their own. But what Arians, the Bucs and Brady are doing could be a template for what the offseason programs will look like in the future. Teams could just open their facilities to players to work out on their own for strength and conditioning, then allow them access to the practice fields without coaches to conduct their own passing camps.
Even though offseason workouts and OTAs are “voluntary,” players don’t like the idea of someone else lining up at their position, and there’s a lot of pressure on them to attend those practices.
Some players, like running back Giovani Bernard, recently acquired as a free agent, are attending both the OTAs and Brady’s passing camps.
But what happened Friday seems like a pretty good compromise between the Bucs and Brady while allowing him and his teammates to be protected in case of injury.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.