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Protecting the QB

Brady monitoring his throws in preseason

FOXBOROUGH -- He says he feels 22, but Tom Brady knows better. There's no page in the football playbook to turn back time.

In four days, the Patriots' star quarterback and soon-to-be father will turn 30, a reminder he's no longer the fourth-string but confident rookie who first arrived in town in 2000. He's reached a different point in his career, and the evidence is there for all to see on the practice fields at training camp.

Brady is taking a step back.

"One thing I'm doing that's a little bit different is I'm really monitoring my throws in the preseason," he said yesterday after the team's hot and muggy morning practice. "Before I'd come out and I'd throw 100 balls a day -- and it's 200 in two-a-days -- and you go, 'Gosh, after four days why is my arm sore?' I just try to understand how much I'm throwing and the type of throws we're making. Everybody has to get ready differently."

This is new territory for Brady, an ultra-competitor who would prefer to take every snap if possible. But time catches up with everybody, and if he needs proof of that, he can simply ask his good pal Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

The 31-year-old Manning, too, has been on a reduced throwing schedule over the past few years. A Colts assistant coach was hitting a "counter" for each throw Manning made at the team's June minicamp, and Manning believes the approach has made a difference. He told Indianapolis reporters that in November and December of last year he didn't experience any arm fatigue.

In a year in which the Patriots have imported some potentially potent weapons at receiver, Brady hopes to have Manning-like results by adopting the reduced workload. Consider that in addition to the heavy volume of throws from practice, Brady has attempted 3,549 passes in 110 career games (108 starts), and was one of only eight quarterbacks in the NFL to throw more than 500 passes last regular season (516).

With the numbers mounting, Brady compared his situation to a baseball hurler who might have a pitch count in the 100 range, and then doesn't pitch again for five days. Brady is in the management business now, giving way to backup Matt Cassel in more team drills.

"I think I'm at a point in my career where I know what it takes to prepare myself," said the 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Brady, who regularly has been listed as probable on the team's injury report in recent years. "I've tried just about everything at this point, so you eliminate a lot of stuff you did in the past and you can really hone in and be efficient in how to prepare for games and just to maximize your time."

One throw Brady is making a few times each practice is a high-arcing bomb to receiver Randy Moss on a go route. The idea is to put "the ball down the field where he can really stretch out and run after it" and is tailored to take advantage of Moss's skills.

"One of Randy's strengths is that he tracks the ball in the air very well," Brady said. "Everything looks effortless down the field and I think he judges the height of the ball a lot like a center fielder. He knows when to put his hands out, knows not to do it too early because that really triggers the defensive back to put his hands up."

Brady and the 6-4 Moss haven't quite connected to this point, which isn't much of a surprise given that it's so early in camp. Brady seems to be adjusting to the speed at which Moss strides down the field, in one practice delivering the ball too late and having it bounce well behind him.

The two will have time to iron out those kinks on the field, but they've already connected off it, with Brady joking that he beat Moss in a Saturday poker game. Overall, Brady likes what he's seen from the 10-year veteran, who has been running with the first-unit offense.

"He's a very, very smart football player, one of those guys who can see things out on the field and react without you really having to tell him and he's very much like a quarterback in that sense," he said.

The Patriots don't need another quarterback, though.

What they do need is for their top signal-caller to remain healthy and strong throughout the year, hence the change in Brady's practice routine.

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

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