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Jackie MacMullan

Moss joins in crowd as just one of the guys

FOXBOROUGH -- Randy Moss snatched some footballs hoisted by Tom Brady yesterday morning in full view of an adoring public. He looked pretty adept, too, although he'd be the first to concede nobody was dogging him from the line of scrimmage as he rose up and gathered in Brady's offerings with the ease of a star.

Let's be clear on this: Randy Moss is a star. He is the big, quick, explosive, play-making receiver Brady has been dreaming about since he was a kid throwing spirals in the 49ers parking lot, masquerading as Joe Montana.

Moss is a headliner whose comments, however innocuous, will be documented (these sort of things happen when you utter legendary phrases such as "I play when I want to play"). If Randy makes an acrobatic play, it will be noted. If Randy drops a ball in traffic, that, too, will be dissected. If he looks mad coming off the field, we will wonder if he's getting enough touches. If Tom Brady hugs him, we'll speculate on whether it was because he loved the baby gift or is just happy to finally have someone who can actually leap above the defense and haul in the ball.

The possibilities are endless. If Moss toes the line, follows the program, and adheres to the Belichick regimen, he could be rewarded with a ring. If he becomes disenchanted, or loses sight of the hard-line Patriots mantra, he could get a police escort to the exit.

Randy Moss cannot be the story in training camp, which officially kicked off yesterday in Foxborough. He must accept the edict that he is to blend in, work hard, and, above all, not generate distractions. The slogan for this championship-driven Patriots team is the same as it has been every season since Bill Belichick grabbed the reins and transformed cutoffs into chic sportswear: We haven't done anything yet.

That goes double for a receiver with Hall of Fame potential who has never won a Super Bowl, and has a chance to prove to the world he can be a team player.

To that end, when asked how Moss looked yesterday, Belichick answered in his best tone of indifference. "We had about 70 players out there practicing today. I can't give you a rundown of each player."

Moss appeared to be up to the task of assuming his role as just one of the guys. Asked how his first day of camp with his third team in four years went, he answered, "It felt weird, but good just getting back into the swing of things and really putting the armor on and just getting used to the field."

It's hard not to let the imagination run wild when considering what a locked-in Moss could do for the Patriots' arsenal. Brady is fiercely protective of those receivers who earn his trust. He has used a hands-on approach in the past, going so far as to running the proper routes himself to demonstrate the level of intensity he's striving for.

Although it's unlikely Brady will resort to such rudimentary instruction with a receiver of Moss's stature, he will expect his talented new mate to respect the work ethic he has painstakingly instilled into this offense. He will demand excellence and require Moss to come by his star power honestly. If Moss does, it will be the start of a beautiful, perhaps even lucrative, friendship.

Brady was an enthusiastic supporter of adding Moss to the mix. The quarterback has had a few matters on his docket in recent months, preventing numerous opportunities to break bread with his five-time Pro Bowl target, but Moss said he and Brady will devote some time getting to know one another in the weeks ahead.

"I think in order for us to have chemistry on the field, we first have to build a relationship off the field," Moss said. "That's one thing we're trying to do. I'm not trying to step on his toes and he's not trying to step on mine. It's just a mutual friendship. We have a high respect for one another."

Patriots players have acknowledged they are curious to see what Moss can do. They have welcomed him with the best gift he could hope for: a clean slate. In return, they expect him to subscribe to their philosophy of sacrificing individual glory for team success.

If the rest of the Patriots are giddy about the addition of Moss, they did a fine job of keeping it -- and him -- under wraps yesterday.

"He's a funny guy," said running back Laurence Maroney, when asked about No. 81 in your program.

And how will he help balance the running game if he proves to be the big-play threat he's anticipated to be?

"I don't know," Maroney said with a shrug. "I haven't played a game with him yet."

There were murmurs following minicamp that Moss did not tackle some drills with sufficient energy or enthusiasm. He passed the team's conditioning test earlier in the week and appeared to be fit and healthy.

"The test was OK," Moss said. "It hurt a little, don't get me wrong . . . every team has a test, here, it's everything. If you touch the grass wrong, you've got to go back."

You wonder if he can still submit a 1,000-yard receiving season, something he's done seven times, or if New England's equal opportunity offensive sets preclude that. Can he accept that some days, the ball won't be thrown to his side?

"If you're asking me whether I mind being a decoy, then no," Moss said.

You wonder if he still has Pro Bowl talent, or, as some of his former employers in Oakland suggested, his legs are too far gone to put up prolific numbers.

The buzz will not subside regarding Randy Moss any time soon. The Patriots will -- and should -- try to sell him as just one of the guys.

We know better.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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