FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots fans are probably fortunate Tuesday’s organized team activities session was only open to the media, not the public.
The Patriots’ offense clearly missed quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who, so far at least, are skipping voluntary OTAs.
Tuesday’s practice offered a dystopian glimpse into what life might look like without Brady around. Backup Brian Hoyer went 12-of-25 with an interception while rookie Danny Etling was just 4-of-9. Some rust is to be expected. Tuesday was just the second Patriots full-team spring session. Both quarterbacks are getting reacquainted to throwing against a defense.
But the Patriots’ first-team offense is usually crisp in practices in front of the media. Errant throws are saved for the third-team rookies. Tuesday’s practice felt odd. Something — two things, actually — was clearly missing.
“Yeah, I’m not going to talk about the people that aren’t here,” head coach Bill Belichick said before practice. “Guys that are here are improving, they’re working hard and those are the guys we’re going to focus on.”
Hoyer was asked if this felt like a unique situation for him. Brady has almost always been on the practice field as long as Hoyer has worn navy, red and silver.
“It’s not unique at all because I’ve been in other places where I’ve been the guy responsible for leading the huddle, being that guy, that presence there, that leadership, those kinds of things,” Hoyer said. “So, for me, I come out every day and look at it as a great opportunity to get better.”
Brady has cited spending more time with his family as the reason why he’s taking this offseason differently. Brady’s skipped the offseason workout program in the past, but this is the first known time he’s skipped full-team spring practices. Brady reportedly has been in Foxboro at the TB12 Center getting treatment from his body coach Alex Guerrero.
If Brady participated in OTAs, went to team meetings and then saw Guerrero, then it absolutely could eat into family time. At the same time, there are only 13 full-team spring practices, and nearly every other player is participating.
“I mean, every year there’s a couple people that don’t come,” defensive captain Duron Harmon said. “We wish everybody was here, but it just is what it is. We’ve got to focus on who’s here. We’ve got to focus on getting better and that’s what we’re trying to do. When they come, they come, but right now we have to focus on what we have to focus on, and that’s getting better each and every day.”
Brady has praised OTAs in the past as being helpful. Hoyer did the same Tuesday after practice.
“It’s awesome, especially for quarterbacks,” Hoyer said. “There’s nothing like simulating going against a defense. I mean, you can go out and throw routes on air. You can go out and walk through plays, but there’s nothing quite like going against a defense and especially a good defense like our who’s going to make you think on every play. It’s always a great opportunity to go out and continue to learn, even 10 years in. You’re always kind of learning new things, seeing new things. And so I always enjoy it. It’s really the time of year when you can work on your craft a little bit, and if there’s something you want to work on, you have the time to do it.”
It’s safe to say Brady doesn’t need as much work on his craft. And he’s been facing Belichick’s defense for 18 years. He can still be fooled, but it’s not often.
Hoyer has been in contact with Brady.
“We’re great friends,” he said. “We talk all the time.”
Etling deflected when asked if he’s met Brady.
“I’ve just been communicating with all the teammates, and it’s been really hard to get accustomed to a new team and learn everyone’s name and all that, so I’m just getting focused on trying to know everybody and continue to get to know my new team,” the rookie said.
He has to know Brady’s name, though, right?
“Yeah, I know Tom,” Etling said. “He’s a pretty great quarterback. Probably the greatest of all time.”
For what it’s worth, Hoyer said the absence of Brady and Gronkowski has not created a distraction.
“No, I don’t think so,” Hoyer said. “I’m focused on myself. I know my teammates, we’re all focused on getting better each day. And that’s all we can do. I don’t think it’s a distraction in any way at all.”
The Patriots hold OTAs through June 15. It’s broken up by mandatory minicamp from June 5 to 7. Brady and Gronkowski reportedly are expected for minicamp.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images