TAMPA — It’s not like he was ever really gone. Whether it was B-roll of him on the sports TV channels, rumored sightings in the Bahamas, speculation about “The Masked Singer” or persistent questions about his absence, it seemed you were never more than a few hours from an update on Tom Brady.
Still, there was a big void for the Bucs until a couple of minutes before 1 p.m. Monday, when Brady walked out of AdventHealth Training Center wearing his orange No. 12 practice jersey, red shorts and a ball cap.
It had been 11 days since Brady had been with the Bucs, having left training camp for what the team called “personal reasons” while missing preseason games against the Dolphins and Titans.
Then Brady pulled on a helmet, fastened his chin strap and began throwing the football. Unofficially, every pass was perfectly placed between the numbers.
Suddenly, the Bucs’ patchwork offensive line began blocking better. Receivers ran better routes. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich called better plays.
“Pretty much as expected,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “Wherever Tom was, he was working out still and getting good reps in. Yeah, if anyone can get away with the 11-day break during training camp, it’s Tom. He came back kind of firing on all cylinders (Monday). Yeah, we’re all excited he’s back and ready to move on.”
Brady may be ready to move on, as well. He didn’t address the media Monday, and there has been no reason given for his absence.
Whatever caused him to miss practice ― speculation has run the gamut from family issues to a pre-planned vacation to taping a TV talent show — the team is leaving it up to Brady to disclose it.
Players said they got an immediate lift from Brady’s return to the field.
“Obviously, his presence is one of a kind,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “He’s Tom Brady, so when he’s not out there, you kind of know. But after the first couple of days or whatever went by, we just went on back to our regularly scheduled program, everybody going out there to work. Blaine (Gabbert) stepped in on that side as a leader, and I felt like he did a great job filling in for the time being.”
Without Brady, Gabbert and Kyle Trask got a lot of the repetitions in practice and the games. While both played well for the most part, the Bucs offense didn’t run as smoothly without Brady and his more than two decades of experience. The Bucs lost 13-3 to the Titans on Saturday.
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“It was definitely weird,” Brate said of Brady’s absence. “Tom is such an omnipresent being. He’s like the unquestioned leader of the team, right? So for him not to be there for 11 days, it was kind of a good opportunity for the other guys to kind of step up and fill that void.
“I mean, it was different, because Tom is kind of cussing guys up, up and down the field when guys are messing up, but we didn’t really have that, so it’s different. But I thought some of the other veterans stepped up. I thought Blaine did a good job commanding the first-team offense when Tom was out.”
On Monday, Brady started fast. In seven-on-seven, he ripped a pass to the sideline to Julio Jones. He connected with Kyle Rudolph in the seam for what would’ve been a touchdown. Mike Evans made a one-handed catch over the middle. He threw a perfect fade to Jones.
“He’s very familiar with the offense,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “So, him coming back in and getting back to work ‚it’s kind of normal. Just getting used to the heat and getting used to the guys, but he ran the offense well.’'
“Anytime you have all your guys back, you feel good, you know? Especially after the injury bug has hit us lately, so we’re happy to have him back.”
Bowles hasn’t decided whether to play Brady or not in Saturday’s preseason finale at Indianapolis. He wants to see what kind of condition Brady is in.
He didn’t look like he missed a beat, and certainly the pulse of teammates, coaches and fans slowed with his return.
“He’s a film junkie. I’m sure he’s watched tape of everything,” Bowles said. “So (it’s) him coming back in, picking up where he left off, just getting used to the mechanics again. He’s been great, same as when he left.“
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