FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady’s comeback is entering its next phase.
The New England Patriots open training camp today on the practice fields next to Gillette Stadium, where Brady’s 2008 season ended in the first quarter of the first game.
Now, after surgery, optional team activities and minicamp, the quarterback takes his next steps on a surgically repaired left knee, looking toward this year’s opener in less than seven weeks against the Buffalo Bills.
In late May, Brady said he’s not limited in what he can do on the field. But shaking off the rust is another matter.
“It remains to be seen,” he said in early June. “I hope there’s not a lot of rust at all, but the pre-season games will be good for that. And we have a long time until we play our first regular-season game.”
Brady usually sees little action in exhibition games and it’s too early to tell if that will change. But late in June, wide receiver Wes Welker seemed optimistic about Brady’s comeback.
“It’s been good, as far as I can see. This spring, he was out there. He’s probably a little rusty, but at the same time he was Tom Brady,” Welker said. “He’s making all the right reads, all the right throws. He’s excited and he’s ready to be back, and he’s hungry.”
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years from 2002-2005. But they reached only one of the four Super Bowls since, and lost that in 2008 to the New York Giants, 17-14, on Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left. That ended their perfect season.
They tied for first place in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins last season at 11-5, but missed the playoffs for the first time in six years on a tiebreaker. Matt Cassel did so well as Brady’s replacement that he signed a lucrative long-term contract with the Kansas City Chiefs — the team Brady was hurt against — after being traded there.
Kevin O’Connell, a 2008 third-round draft pick from San Diego State, could have the inside track to become Brady’s backup. The Patriots also have third-year pro Matt Gutierrez and rookie free agent Brian Hoyer at quarterback.
The receiving corps remains potent with Randy Moss and Welker and the addition of Joey Galloway as the third wide receiver to replace Jabar Gaffney.