Amid a training camp that has been otherwise perfectly satisfactory, Tom Brady can't seem to get one aspect of his performance up to his usual standards.
Brady met with the media after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Thursday morning training camp practice and was slightly but noticeably hoarse at the microphone. He laughed along at concerns about his vocal cords.
"I know, I can't get it back," he said while smiling. "It feels pretty good in the morning and by the time practice ends [it goes away]. I have to get my voice in shape too along with my legs and everything else. You're barking out signals and there are a lot of people out here. Other than that, [I'm] feeling really strong and really good."
Will Brady be able to loudly control a huddle by September 9 when, unlike last season, the Buccaneers will begin playing in front of full and noisy crowds? Well, if that's the biggest thing we're worried about regarding Tampa Bay's quarterback (and in case you can't tell, we're not worried), the offense he will be directing could be lethal.
See, on one hand, we've got a quarterback with a bit of a raspy throat. Okay, fine. On the other hand, we've got the "other than that:" a seven-time Super Bowl champion who feels better physically than he has in many years and has a much greater command of Bruce Arians' offense in Year Two. Okay, that's very, very good.
First, his health. Brady went through knee surgery and a lengthy rehab process after the Super Bowl and has come out the other end feeling recharged and capable of moving in ways he hadn't in a while. Last year, at the age of 43, he threw for 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,700 yards, playoffs included, while managing his knee on a weekly basis. What will he do with an added dash of mobility making him feel several years younger?
"Yeah, I feel really good," said Brady. "It's the first time in 14 years that I haven't had to wear a knee sleeve. Every picture I've had for 14 years I've been in a knee sleeve. In games, I'll still wear a knee brace just because I still want to protect from a vulnerable spot for a quarterback. It's just nice to practice and feel like I can put a pair of shorts on and run out to practice. Last year, [trainer Alex Guerrero] and I were taping it at 7:15 in the morning for an 11 o'clock practice and after games I would wear the tape home and sleep in it. It is what it was and what I had to deal with. It's good though. Like I said, physically feeling great, mentally in a good place."
Second, his grasp of the offense. On Wednesday, Head Coach Bruce Arians ran a practice focused largely on communication, running many plays that involved shifts, motion and "gadgets." Some of these motion plays represent the continued evolution of the Buccaneers' Brady-led offense. Last year, Brady was new to the team and still trying to get down the basics of Arians' offense and terminology. There was no room for this type of offensive expansion in that training camp.
It's different now.
"A year ago, three weeks into camp I was still trying to figure out formations," said Brady. "What does Tampa right mean, you know? I don't even know what that means. Now, I just kind of rattle those off the tongue. You get used to similar ideas and concepts, but they're all named differently. It would kind of be like English and Spanish. You have to literally learn a different language and then really kind of learn what you're doing. Then, you have to learn if your players can do it and then you still have to study how the defense is doing things.
"So, there are a lot of different challenges that you face. I think this year, mentally, it's been much better and much easier to kind of assimilate my way into camp. Physically I feel great, best I've felt really in a long time. I feel like I'm in a good place and I'm just going to keep working really hard."
Brady said the Buccaneers would "see where they are at" after Saturday's preseason opener against Cincinnati, though he and the starters will probably not be in the game for long. In addition, Tropical Storm Fred could make it difficult for both offenses to execute as planned. But there are two more warm-up games after that and several more weeks of practice before the Bucs' title defense starts in earnest on September 9 against Dallas. That's time for even more offensive evolution, and it's also time for the entire cast around Brady to start feeling as good as he is.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
And that has already been trending in the right direction. Wide receiver Antonio Brown also had offseason knee surgery and feels better than he has in years. Tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate have returned to action and are rounding back into football shape alongside Rob Gronkowski. Wideout Mike Evans appears to be in midseason formand fellow starter Chris Godwin is healthier than a year ago. The running back corps still has Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette but now also boasts a premier pass-catcher in former Bengal Giovani Bernard. So a healthy knee? Check. Much better command of an expanding offense? Check. And a supporting cast that might be even better than last year? Check again.
"I'm just really excited to see what our team can become," said Brady. " Cam's been out there for the first time in a few days. Receivers have kind of been in and out a little bit. Chris has been out there a lot more this year than he was at this time last year. Scotty [Miller] been out there a lot and getting O.J. back and he's been practicing a lot. ... I think we all feel more comfortable with one another, which is a good feeling. Football, again, is about anticipation. I'm really not a reactive athlete. People have seen me play for a long time. I really like to anticipate things when I'm out there so the most familiarity I have with the guys I think the better it's going to look."
Yes, there's a lot to shout about the Bucs' offensive potential in 2021…but maybe Brady should abstain for now. Gotta get that voice back.