Tom Brady says he’s feeling the best he has in a long time (voice excluded)

The Bucs quarterback is expecting to start Saturday’s preseason opener against the Bengals, weather permitting.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up during training camp Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up during training camp Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Aug. 12, 2021|Updated Aug. 12, 2021

TAMPA — By the sound of his voice, Tom Brady might need to go to a silent count.

Physically, he said Thursday, he has never felt better heading into Saturday’s preseason opener against Cincinnati. But audibly, the 44-year-old Bucs quarterback might need to show some improvement before the game.

“I can’t get it back,” Brady said Thursday in a raspy voice. “I don’t know. It feels pretty good in the morning, and by the time practice ends … so I’ve got to get my voice in shape, too, along with your legs and everything else. You’re going to be barking out signals, and there’s a lot of people out here. Other than that, I feel really strong, really good.”

Coach Bruce Arians said Brady will start against the Bengals unless rain from Tropical Depression Fred makes the Raymond James Stadium field too dangerous to risk playing the seven-time Super Bowl winner.

His voice notwithstanding, Brady said he has not felt this good physically entering a preseason in a number of years. After playing with a torn left medial collateral ligament in 2020 and helping lead the Bucs to their Super Bowl 55 victory, Brady had surgery in February and has practiced in training camp without a sleeve on his knee for the first time in more than a dozen years.

“It’s the first time in 14 years where I haven’t had to wear a knee sleeve,” said Brady, who is entering his 22nd season. “Every picture I’ve had for 14 years has been (wearing) a knee sleeve. In games I’ll still wear a knee brace just because I want to protect kind of a vulnerable spot for a quarterback, you know, your front-left knee.

“But it’s just nice to practice and kind of feel I can put a pair of shorts on and run out to practice. Last year, it was (trainer) Alex (Guerrero) and I taping it at 7:15 in the morning for an 11 o’clock practice, and after games I would just wear the tape home, sleep in it. It is what it was and what I had to deal with. It’s good, though. … Physically I’m feeling great, mentally in a good place. I’m just really excited to see what our team can become.”

A year ago, Brady not only didn’t have the benefit of preseason games, he was busy trying to learn the terminology of a new offense as well as developing chemistry with new teammates after 20 seasons in New England. He still managed to throw for more than 5,700 yards and 50 touchdowns, including the playoffs.

But earlier this week, the Bucs showed the evolvement of their offense under Brady by working on shifts and presnap motions.

“We were talking about end-of-game situations (Thursday),” Brady said. “I mean, a year go, three weeks into camp, I was still trying to figure out formations. What does Tampa right mean? I didn’t even know what that means, and now it kind of rattles off your tongue.”

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“You’ve got to learn what you’re doing, but then you’ve got to learn which players can do it, and then you’ve got to study how defenses are doing things. So there’s a lot of different challenges you face, and for me it’s been much better, much easier to kind of assimilate my way into camp.”

Working in Brady’s favor is the return of all 22 starters from the Super Bowl lineup and a logjam at receiver that includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller.

While there’s not much to be gained by Brady playing in preseason games — and he’s unlikely to play long, regardless of the weather conditions — it’s the start of a long title defense for the Super Bowl champions.

“You know you want to put yourself in a position to play well in training camp so you can be ready for the opener,” Brady said. “You want to play well in September so you can be ready for October. This is all part of it. It’s all part of the process, getting ready.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team. I’ve played with our guys for a year, and I know what it’s like in the huddle with them. I know how we can work throughout the week and how we can put together a plan that we can go out there and be successful.”

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