FOXBORO — For the first time since Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots were on the field as a team in front of the media, but they did not look like the defending Super Bowl champions.
Yes, it is because they were in t-shirts and shorts and no contact was permitted, but also because the play on the field wasn’t all that good. A major part of that was due to the absence of Tom Brady.
With Brady skipping the voluntary part of the offseason workout program for the second straight year, it left Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling and Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. The play was less than stellar with the trio going a combined 21-for-38 with two interceptions in what was basically red-zone work during 11-on-11 drills.
Granted Brady makes almost everybody he throws to look better, almost any other NFL starting quarterback would have made a difference in Thursday’s session. Hoyer is what he is, a career backup. Etling has a long way to go after being a seventh-round selection last season. And Stidham just joined the team a few weeks ago following getting selected in the fourth round last month.
The number of poor throws greatly outnumbered the good ones.
Then, there’s the intensity aspect. Whenever Brady is on the field the emotion picks up and it just feels like the team is more into things when it comes to competing. There wasn’t much chatter at all on the field Thursday. Part of that is because it is just an OTA session, which is primarily for teaching, but even in the competitive periods there wasn’t much happening.
For instance, defensive lineman Adam Butler intercepted a Hoyer pass in 11-on-11 drills and returned it for a touchdown, but there was no reaction from either side. During training camp the entire defense would be sprinting after him to celebrate.
While it is just OTAs, you’d like to see some emotion, and if Brady were present you’d like to think there would be.
A year ago it was the same deal on the field -- lackluster OTA sessions with Hoyer and Etling throwing the passes, but off the field Brady’s absence was a huge talker considering he had never missed an entire offseason workout program in his career.
Just look at Bill Belichick’s media session Thursday compared to a year ago. Thursday there wasn’t a single question about Brady not being there, where as last year that, and Rob Gronkowski skipping the sessions as well, dominated the questions.
Why such a shift? Because last year showed Brady and the team can still succeed despite him missing these option workouts.
Is it ideal? No. Could Brady and the team benefit from him being at these sessions and working with new wide receivers like first-rounder N’Keal Harry and others? Absolutely. Perhaps is this year a little different too because of the number of new faces at receiver and tight end? Maybe.
But, when you have a 41-year-old quarterback with a family at home there are sacrifices the team needs to make in order for him to keep playing, and him missing these sessions are one of them.
So, while there weren’t all that many touchdown passes thrown in Thursday’s third OTA session, the Patriots will gladly take that knowing it will come with Brady on the field throwing touchdown passes deep into January.