TAMPA, Fla. — For the first time in over two decades, six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady is the new kid on the block — playing for a new team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a new offense with new teammates. Well, mostly new teammates.
Brady will have longtime favorite target Rob Gronkowski to ease the transition. But to help Brady’s new squad get better acquainted with him, ESPN spoke to a number of former teammates for tips on how best to work with Brady.
Lesson 1: Don’t get caught ‘Brady-watching’
Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who was with the Patriots for four seasons before Brady’s arrival and played with the quarterback from 2000 to ’08, cautioned against falling into the trap of believing Brady can be the savior every Sunday, or what he calls “Brady-watching.” You can see it when a receiver drops a pass or a safety gives up a touchdown early in the fourth quarter but doesn’t feel a sense of urgency.
“They need to get over Brady-watching. Because they get to the sideline and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘It’s OK, Tom will bail us out.’ That’s what I call Brady-watching,” Bruschi said.
Brady’s 45 game-winning drives from 2000 to ’19 are the most of any quarterback in history.
“I’ll be watching that early on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, if they’re Brady-watching or if they feel themselves as a team that everything is important, and not just when that guy right there is under center and everything is gonna magically happen,” Bruschi said.
When Antoine Winfield Jr. was selected by the Bucs in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, he gushed, “It’s going to be crazy when I see [Brady] in person. He’s one of my favorite players.” (Winfield’s father, Antoine Winfield Sr., played 14 NFL seasons and picked off Brady once back in 2001.)
But multiple former teammates emphasized that just because some Bucs players grew up with Brady posters on their walls and don’t remember the NFL prior to Brady winning a Super Bowl, they can’t be in awe of him.
“I’ll say this right now,” Bruschi said, “if those players see him as that four-letter word, they better get over it. The four-letter word is a word I will not use to describe him. It’s that farm animal, it starts with G. I don’t do that. Because that’s almost like putting him on a pedestal. It’s like, dude, you’re still the same guy I intercepted in practice and took 20 bucks from. Come on, now.
“That’s my one advice to his teammates right now. He is on a level plane as you, because he’s gonna make mistakes, but he’s also gonna make you better. And it can’t be done without you. Don’t look to him to do it. Our teams never did.”
Lesson 2: Rookies need thick skin
When Gronkowski came to the Patriots as a second-round draft pick in 2010, the notoriously intense Brady rode the fun-loving Gronk hard.
“He used to be mean to me,” Gronkowski said in 2018, believing that he needed a “breaking-in” phase and to understand the expectations.
Their shared passion for winning ultimately made them one of the top quarterback-tight end tandems in the NFL for nine seasons. It’s why Gronkowski expressed an interest in reuniting prior to his signing with Tampa Bay, despite retiring because of injuries after the 2018 season.
“He just brings that fire to the table,” Gronkowski said after his trade to the Bucs was finalized. “There’s no time when you’re gonna be out at practice where he’s not gonna be vocal, the intensity level’s not gonna be high. You’re always gonna be learning with Tom.”
Lesson 3: Brady needs honest feedback
Brady might be a six-time Super Bowl winner, but tight end Christian Fauria, who played with Brady from 2002 to ’05, said he needs unfiltered feedback from his teammates in order to learn their preferences and tendencies, especially from skill players such as wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who are significantly younger and less experienced.
“I had a certain skill set. I couldn’t run routes like certain guys,” Fauria said. “I had to run ’em the way I had to run ’em and he needed to know that.”
In a video to Buccaneers fans, Tom Brady expresses his happiness with being in Tampa Bay and makes a joke about getting kicked out of a park.
Brady also needs to know what players are seeing from the defense. If a safety is cheating on a high corner route, Brady needs to know the tight end won’t be able to run that route but could instead run a bench route.
“Take ownership of your role just as much as he takes ownership of his role,” Fauria said. “He’s gonna hold you accountable, but you need to hold him accountable. … It’s not a dictatorship, it’s a partnership. … He’s on a new team with new players and it’s their offense — it’s not his offense. … He’s gonna have to learn just as much from them as they’re gonna have to learn from him.
“There needs to be a lot of compromise and understanding and patience with how this relationship is developed. It’s not a one-way street. … There is a level of expectation and excellence that I think everybody strives for, but the fact is, he can’t do it by himself. He’s never done it by himself. … The more you work at it and practice it and understand what he wants you to do when you both see it the same way — that’s how it develops into a championship mentality.”
Lesson 4: Brady demands perfection from teammates and himself
For former guard Rich Ohrnberger, who was a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in 2009, every practice felt like a game. You were expected to compete the way Brady did, and if you made a mistake, he would point it out.
“There was an expert at all things football just feet behind you,” Ohrnberger said. “If you were having a lackadaisical day, he’d pick on you, he’d find you and make life tough for you.”
One time Ohrnberger and a fellow offensive lineman were trying to pass off a defensive line stunt with the first-team offense, and two D-linemen shot into the backfield into Brady’s face.
“We crashed into each other like cymbals,” Ohrnberger said. “He was frustrated. [He] threw the ball at our feet. And he looked at me specifically and was like, ‘What, they don’t run E-Ts [end-tackle] at Penn State?’
“Even to this day, I can remember that feeling,” Ohrnberger said, referring to Brady’s tongue-lashing. “You go hot throughout your body. You feel like the entire world is staring at you for a moment, and then all of that passes. It’s humiliating, but it makes an impact. It makes you want to do better. That was the goal every day, to do a better job.”
Wide receiver Donté Stallworth, who had two stints with the Patriots, in 2007 and 2012, remembers one of his first practices with Brady during OTAs. On an in-route into the end zone, Brady threw what felt close to a perfect ball, but it was slightly behind Stallworth and it hit him in the chest. He dropped it.
“I should have easily caught the ball. He put it there, where if anyone was watching [it on] TV, they’d be like, ‘Oh, he dropped that ball,'” Stallworth said. “I’m walking back to the huddle and I’m getting ready to like profusely apologize to Tommy. And I see him … cussing, like, ‘S—! F—!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get it now.'”
“I’m like, ‘Tommy, my bad, man. Good throw, man. I’ve gotta have that,'” Stallworth said. Instead, it was Brady who apologized for not throwing him a better ball.
“He’s like, ‘No, man, that’s on me. I’ve gotta put it in front of you,'” Stallworth said. “I’m looking at him like, for a minute I was like, ‘Is he serious or is he screwing with me?’ And he’s serious. … He’s like, ‘I’ve gotta put it on you more, I’ve gotta put it in front of you better.’ … I was sure that he was pissed off at me, but he was pissed off at himself.“
It was the first time Stallworth ever experienced that with any quarterback, a QB who demanded the same level of perfection and accountability of himself as he did with others.
“At that moment, I realized that’s why he’s already a future Hall of Famer. Because of that right there,” Stallworth said. “That’s when I realized why this dude is who he is. He’s a perfectionist. He wants perfection, but not just that — he’s a super competitor.”
Lesson 5: Brady knows when to pick teammates up
While Brady has been known for being tough on the field, he goes out of his way to convey how much he cares off of it. The night before away games, Brady finds a local restaurant to cater a meal for himself, his offensive linemen and tight ends. The conversations aren’t about football; they talk about family and share funny stories from their pasts.
“There was an Italian meal … he [knew] the best restaurant in every city we played in,” Ohrnberger said. “There was this one place that served this huge family-style meal in one of the ballrooms at the hotel we were staying at. … I gorged myself. I was so stuffed. The food was so delicious. I was like, ‘I don’t even know if this is necessarily a great thing a day before we play.’ But I just couldn’t help myself.
“Finding those opportunities to connect as people, as friends, as brothers — those were important to Tom, and it certainly became important to all of us.”
Lesson 6: Watch out when Brady gets too fired up
Running back Kevin Faulk tried to warn Stallworth prior to their first preseason game in 2007.
“He goes, ‘Stay away from Brady before we walk out,'” Stallworth said, assuming it was to give Brady some quiet moments to himself. “And he goes, ‘He’s gonna head-butt the s— out of you. He’s too fired up. Stay away from him, man.’
“I had kinda forgotten about it until he walked up to me and I’m like, ‘S—.’ And he like head-butts the hell out of me,” Stallworth said. “And I’m like, ‘This dude is like serious.’ I didn’t know that he was as competitive as he was. When people talk about [Michael] Jordan being as competitive as he was, that’s the same thing with Tom Brady.”
At the end of warm-ups at games, Brady has a ritual of running down to the end of the field on the home side of the stadium. He yells to the fans, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” In the AFC Championship Game following the 2017 season, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, one of the biggest trash-talkers in the league and 17 years younger than Brady, began shouting at him.
“And Tom’s giving it right back to him,” said Stallworth, who watched the game on TV and recalled fond memories of him jawing with other players. “That’s who Brady is. I love to trash-talk, so when a quarterback does it, I’m like in love. … I’ve seen him get into it with Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis — yelling and cussing at them and they’re yelling and cussing at him back. He loves that stuff.”