Brady still felt ‘rusty' despite strong showing against Eagles

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We made mention of this as soon as last week's exhibition between the Patriots and Eagles was finished. The biggest takeaway, from a local perspective, was that Tom Brady looked the way one might expect him to look two weeks into the preseason. 

Given the different approach he carried into the offseason, it was fair to wonder how Brady would perform in his first game action since Super Bowl LII. But he was accurate, he moved well inside and outside of the pocket, and he appeared healthy. He looked like Tom Brady. 

Despite going 19-for-26 for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the game, though, Brady said in an interview with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Tuesday that he felt as though there was some rust to shake off. 

"It was fun being out there," he said. "We got a lot of work to do. I think you gotta take the preseason games for what they are. It's kind of a step in the preparation, and it goes along with a lot of other things we're doing. It was good. We haven't had any joint practices this year. Being in those competitive situations, if you haven't been in those in a long time, which I haven't since the Super Bowl, you always feel a little bit rusty."

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Brady said he plans to play this week in Carolina. 

"Hopefully we can build on it this week . . . Guys are working hard trying to improve," he said. "There's a lot to improve on. It's a new team. New year.  Hopefully we can use this week as kind of another step before we get to things that start really counting."

What specifically might the Patriots be able to work on in Carolina? 

Last week the Patriots offense seemed to focus in on a few areas, both situationally and schematically. Brady and his teammates had a clear opportunity to work on their hurry-up approach out of their 11-personnel (one back, one tight end, three wideouts) -- which they turned to both early in the game and toward the end of the first half. They also relied heavily on the screen game, something that the team struggled with at times in 2017. 

Against the Panthers, there could be more time spent on their "regular" personnel plays, or their 21-personnel packages, with two backs on the field. That could mean more work for someone like James Develin, who can be used creatively in both the running game and passing game. (On one snap in the second quarter last week, the Patriots split Develin and Jeremy Hill outside in an empty set.) 

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Though the team's running back group is dealing with injuries -- Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead continue to be out and limited in practice, respectively -- we may see some two-back "pony" sets with some combination of Hill, James White, Brandon Bolden and Mike Gillislee. 

More two-tight end packages could find their way onto the field as well, with Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen or Will Tye sharing the field simultaneously if Rob Gronkowski sits. 

These heavier groupings are ones the Patriots offense may have to turn to through the first four weeks of the season with Julian Edelman suspended. Unless Kenny Britt, Eric Decker or Riley McCarron emerges as a more dependable option behind Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, Josh McDaniels may have to pick his spots rolling with three wideouts in September.

With plenty of moving parts, with long-term and short-term situations to prepare for, with three weeks before the start of the regular season, Brady said it. They've got a lot of work to do. 

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