Brady is working on clock management - in his head
FOXBOROUGH - Once the ball is snapped, every quarterback has a clock in his head, ticking away the seconds. In theory, there shouldn’t be that many ticks before the ball is thrown - preferably to the right receiver and to a spot where only he, and not a defender, can catch it.
And before a defensive player can break free of a blocker and wrap the quarterback in a bear hug, forcefully knocking him to the turf.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
In the immediate aftermath of the Patriots’ win against Tampa Bay a week ago, coach Bill Belichick gave a lukewarm assessment of Tom Brady’s performance, saying there were some things the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player had to “sharpen up.’’
On Monday, Brady said that first and foremost he had to work on the speed of his decision-making. That, he said, and fundamentals, are at the top of the list when it comes to being an efficient quarterback.
He vowed to focus on it during this week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game against the Lions.
Yesterday, Brady was asked just how he goes about making sure as few ticks as possible click away.
“You make a really conscious effort,’’ he said. “Because you go through all of training camp and a lot of seven-on-seven drills where there’s no pass rush and you can kind of look to the right and look to the left, and, ‘Yeah, OK, where am I going to throw the ball now?’ and you throw it. In the game, you don’t have a lot of time.
“Some plays, you think you may have time and a guy gets an edge on an offensive lineman and he’s at the quarterback. You’ve got to make a good, quick decision of, ‘OK, what am I going to do now?’
“You try to throw it away. You try to put it where only your guy can catch it.
“So a lot of it is just getting used to the tempo of a real game. That’s why we play those preseason games.’’
Reacclimating is a progression, he said. At the start of camp, Brady felt everything was going slowly; he couldn’t read things fast enough, couldn’t get the ball to the right spot fast enough. But as training camp went on, that improved, and now, through game action, he is again gaining familiarity with just how fast he has to be.
Even in 11-on-11 drills on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, Brady’s new teammate Andre Carter is going to pull up if he gets close to Brady on a pass rush; Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh or the Colts’ Dwight Freeney or the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake will not.
So that little clock, which got a little slow, has to speed up.
“It gets used to shelled practices and me wearing a red jersey - that’s what it gets used to,’’ Brady said of his mental clock, drawing some laughs. “And you have to realize that these guys are coming and they’re coming high, low, on each side, sliding in the pocket.
“In practice you stand back there and they come at you but then they pull off, so you may think, ‘OK, OK, I’ll just make the throw.’ But that’s not the way it works when you’re playing for real.’’
New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Brady is hard on himself, but the Patriots try as best they can on the practice field to simulate game conditions and timing.
“We’ve done a lot of situational work over the past few days,’’ said Caserio. “End-of-the-game situations, down by 4, need a touchdown, no timeouts, 20 seconds. You’re trying to put your team in those situations and see how to execute under pressure.
“But Bill tries to make it as hard as possible on the team and force them to execute under those extenuating circumstances, and that’s really, probably, the best way you can do it.
“In the end, practice is practice and the game is the game. But in practice, if you can simulate that as best you can, then it’s going to hopefully help your team execute in those critical situations come Sunday.’’
There’s no way of knowing whether all the little tricks are working until it’s game time.
For Brady, he’ll know Saturday night, when Dan Koppen snaps the ball and the receivers take off on their routes while Koppen, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, and Matt Light (or Nate Solder) engage Detroit’s defensive linemen.
How much time he’ll need will depend in part on their protection, but also on how quickly he comes to a decision on what the best thing to do is, given the situation.
Brady said he has seen a lot of improvement in just a couple of days’ practice this week, and it stands to only get better.
Tick. Tick. Tick.