Tom Brady's belated celebration for his 43rd birthday should give Buccaneers fans more than 43 reasons to throw an NFL season-long party in 2020. A morning after turning a year older, Brady gave Tampa Bay-area media a strong first impression at training camp on Tuesday.
If there were some remaining doubts about Brady strongly rebounding from his final Patriots season — one of the worst for the greatest quarterback of all time — they should have continued to fade with his latest practice. The immediate reports from the Tampa Bay Times, The Athletic and ESPN all came to the conclusion that it was vintage Brady with the command of the Bucs' offense and connection with his Bucs' teammates.
The consensus was that Brady's experience and talent showed up every which way, with most of his key offensive weapons on the field with him. The leadership qualities that were evident since Brady conducted early throwing sessions in March simply got ramped up. Brady didn't show any rust related to an unusual offseason, showing strong and accurate throws.
Video: Tom Brady throws to Mike Evans (in the distance) at Bucs conditioning workout this morning. pic.twitter.com/9ntkMAaRmK— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 4, 2020
This is what watching training camp in 2020 looks like. Physical distancing at its finest. But you can see Tom Brady connecting deep on that first pass. Second pass timing was a little off. pic.twitter.com/T9bmHfNaIS— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) August 4, 2020
The Patriots let down Brady quite a bit last season with a receiving corps in transition and nothing close to a reliable replacement for tight end Rob Gronkowski. An offensive line breaking down with injuries didn't help, which in turn limited the success of the rushing attack. Brady was still capable of effectively throwing the deep ball, but didn't have the outside targets to take advantage of that.
Per ESPN, Chris Godwin, the Bucs' best all-around wide receiver, wasn't part of the group working out with Brady, but everyone else was for their two-tight end personnel, with Justin Watson instead of Godwin at wideout. Now consider the important early takeaways:
Brady hasn't been just reunited with Gronkowski, but he has two more receiving tight ends, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, who are both much better than the options he had at the position last season. Brady and Gronk are attached at the hip, but Brady is also throwing to Howard and Brate like he's always known them.
Up front, the Buccaneers were fortunate that solid left tackle Donovan Smith decided not to opt out for the season and right tackle Tristan Wirfs has quickly fit right in to nail down the other side of edge pass protection for Brady. In the backfield, the shine of third-round rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn has dwindled because of injury and the offseason limitations, but there's suddenly more confidence in third-year back Ronald Jones and the signing of LeSean McCoy has infused revered veteran juice into the mix.
Without Godwin, Tuesday's wide receiver spotlight for Brady belonged to Mike Evans. Evans is in the select company of the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill and the Lions' Kenny Golladay as being an elite established big-play threat, averaging 17.7 and 17.3 yards per catch the past two seasons. Brady had no trouble sharply and beautifully dropping passes downfield to Evans in practice.
With the Patriots in 2019, there were plenty of times when Brady looked and played his age of 42. Now he's a year older, but he looks rejuvenated going back to work with an old, familiar friend and new younger guys eager to both learn from him and deliver for him.
With each passing practice, the Bucs should feel a lot more confident that they got the Brady who best resembles the GOAT.