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Brady's Back, PUPs Don't Practice with Big Dogs

Brady Makes Pitch to Sign Branch
WRs Chad Jackson, Bam Childress Return to Field

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returned to practice today after missing three straight days. Pats head coach Bill Belichick has been typically tight-lipped about Brady's absence.

The sports media, evidently having nothing else to talk about, has made this their top story out of Patriots training camp.

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"


I'll tell you one thing. With the heat expected today and tomorrow, Brady's going to wish he took off two different days.

Besides, don't we have bigger concerns? Isn't the litany of names on the Physically Unable to Perform list of smidge more importance?

Faithful congregants of the pulpit know I'm not one to prophesy the approach of the Apocalypse, but I'm definitely experiencing a subtle measure of concern over the possibility that Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison and others will miss the beginning of the season or worse. Even Deion Branch's ongoing holdout is of greater concern, and I'm not too worried about that.

The others on the list include center (offensive lineman) Dan Koppen (torn rotator cuff and dislocated shoulder from November), offensive lineman Nick Kaczur (shoulder from December-January), cornerback Randall Gay (ankle from November), fullback Patrick Pass (hamstring from November), and defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan.

Koppen and Kaczur are troublesome residents on the PUP. Brady, despite having a career year and leading the league or at the top of the lists in several categories, was under pressure and took way more hits than you ever want to see. It's not that the healthy linemen can't do the job, but the key is consistency; and with the Pats line shuffled like a cheap deck of cards [Doesn't that sound like something Butch Stearns would say?] ... I lost my train of thought.

Gay's status is troublesome, too, what with last year's defensive secondary blood-letting.

Meanwhile, Sullivan just seems to be plain trouble. It's likely he won't make the team, unless the team is desperate to fill a roster spot. Unfortunately, it looks like New England will end up with nothing for Bethel Johnson.

Patrick Pass, as much as I like him, is in danger of being cut. With Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk solidly on the roster, that leaves just one spot for a fullback, and the Patriots have several to choose from.

There is some good news: long-snapper Lonie Paxton has been cleared from the PUP list. That, at least, reunites two-thirds of the field goal trio (long-snapper - holder - kicker), which includes Paxton, punter Josh Miller and (now starring) kicker Stephen Gostkowski. It's unlikely, but possible, that Paxton could play a larger role if the offensive line continues to be plagued with injuries.

Also, second-round draft pick wide receiver Chad Jackson came off the PUP with fellow receiver Bam Childress earlier today. Jackson's return is good news for the offense, because he will eventually inherit the position vacated by David Givens, currently (and allegedly) filled by Reche Caldwell.

Oh, one last thing about Brady missing a couple days: Really, it's not a bad thing at all. We know what we have with Brady. I can't image many other players anywhere in the league better prepared than he is. So Brady missing a couple days is less than worrisome.

In fact, it gives backup Matt Cassel some time to get some work in with the first team should, football gods forbid, something happens to Brady. It also gives the coaches some time to work with Cassel. This is all good, considering the No. 3 QB is Todd Mortensen, whoever he is (but at least he played in NFL Europe ) and No. 4 is Corey Bramlet, an undrafted rookie free agent.

And one last thing about Branch: While I'm not too concerned about his holdout, Brady is. Brady stated he's a little miffed that the team hasn't signed a player Brady calls the most important piece of the offensive puzzle. Despite his allegiance to his teammate, I doubt Brady's statement will have much of an impact on the team's negotiation with Branch. And I still think Branch will be in uniform in plenty of time to be up to speed at the start of the season.

Now that Brady's back on the practice field, the media will stop speculating "What's Wrong With Tom?" (Incidentally, for those of you not paying attention, he was just taking some time off after throwing on eight straight days.) I guess the mainstream will have to find some other molehill to make into a mountain. At least we haven't been hearing too much about Dillon being "too old." Have we?