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Vinny tests his arm

Testaverde happy to be back on field

FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady liked what he saw after spotting newly signed quarterback Vinny Testaverde for the first time at Gillette Stadium this week.

"He's a very impressive guy, in great shape," Brady said. "I hope I look like that when I'm 43. I'll probably be in a wheelchair."

Testaverde, who turned 43 Monday , participated in his first practice with the Patriots yesterday. He donned jersey No. 14, long associated with former quarterback Steve Grogan.

This marks Testaverde's 20th NFL season.

"A lot of my friends and family [members] ask me why I'm still doing this," Testaverde said. "The simple reason is because I still think I can go out on the field and be productive if need be. And because I love playing football."

Testaverde will serve as the team's emergency quarterback behind Brady and Matt Cassel, meaning he won't be active on game days.

"Hopefully we won't ever need him -- and I've told him that. I hope he doesn't play at all," coach Bill Belichick said. "But if something happens, at least we have ourselves protected there."

Belichick added that the team was "kind of nervous" of what would happen if Brady or Cassel were injured, and that signing Testaverde was a consideration earlier in the year as well. But needs at other roster spots -- namely tight end, receiver, and defensive back -- delayed the move.

Testaverde, now with his sixth NFL team and in pursuit of his first Super Bowl ring, is comfortable with the assignment.

"That's the idea. [Belichick] told me he wanted me to come in an emergency situation," he said. "Obviously, you have Tom and Matt, who is a young player with a lot of ability. Over the years, as a player, if you understand your role you have a better chance to be successful and help the team be successful."

Testaverde's arrival was met favorably among the players, with Brady noting that the Patriots can benefit from his approach.

"It's been fun to have him in the last day or two," Brady said. "He's a real nice guy who has had a bunch of familiarity with this offense. It will be nice to have another guy around, especially with his experience. He'll bring some leadership, a lot of what this team needs. We've got to start playing more consistently and hopefully he brings another aspect of some consistency."

Meanwhile, fullback Heath Evans called it an honor to be on the same team as Testaverde.

"It's like playing with Junior [Seau] -- these guys have done stuff in the league that very few have," said Evans, who grew up in South Florida and was 8 when Testaverde was starring at the University of Miami.

Belichick's background with Testaverde dates to 1993, when he signed him with the Cleveland Browns.

"I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for Vinny," Belichick said. "I think he came into the league in a tough situation in Tampa, didn't win a lot of games down there but he did a lot of good things. He certainly did a lot of good things for us in Cleveland, then he was productive at Baltimore and with the Jets. He's had a terrific career in terms of production. He's been a stand-up guy, a leader. He's always handled himself with class and dignity, with his head held up high and with a lot of confidence. I respect and admire that about him."

Testaverde, who played in six games with the Jets last season, had been working out at his Florida home, playing a lot of golf while keeping in contact with Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli on a weekly basis. He didn't change his workout regimen despite knowing he could be joining the Patriots.

"My lifestyle has been, over the last 20 years or so, working out and staying in shape," said Testaverde, whose hair has a touch of gray. "This past offseason, it was the same thing. I haven't worked out as hard as I would going into a training camp, but I feel like I'm in pretty decent shape. Obviously I have to get in better football shape. I have some young kids, they keep me busy. I'm out in the backyard throwing the football with my son."

Yesterday, he was throwing footballs with Brady and Cassel at the start of practice, loosening up his right arm.

"I just love being around football," he said. "I'm going to milk it to the very end."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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