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Tim O’Sullivan: Brady’s minor injury could be major setback

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady  grabs his left knee after an apparent injury during a joint workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NFL football training camp, in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Will DiTullio)

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady grabs his left knee after an apparent injury during a joint workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NFL football training camp, in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Will DiTullio)

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins during a team NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, July 30, 2013.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins during a team NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, July 30, 2013.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady  grabs his left knee after an apparent injury during a joint workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NFL football training camp, in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Will DiTullio)
  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins during a team NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, July 30, 2013.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The last thing the Patriots needed was more preseason drama, and the last person they needed involved in it was Tom Brady, but that’s what happened yesterday in Foxborough.

During a joint practice with Tampa Bay, Buccaneers defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn shoved New England tackle Nate Solder into Brady’s left leg just after the quarterback threw the ball. The pass fell incomplete, and Brady fell to the practice field behind Gillette Stadium, grabbing his knee and rolling in pain. The play was caught on video by fan Chad Kopack, and the recording immediately made the rounds on the internet.

Brady left the field for one play, came back to throw three more passes, but then departed for the remainder of the practice.

Bill Belichick did not address the media after the practice and the Patriots did not release any official information on Brady’s condition, but the news coming from Foxborough was positive. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that an MRI on Brady’s knee was negative and that the quarterback is day-to-day. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the diagnosis was just a sprain and not serious. And Patriots President Jonathan Kraft said, “I don’t believe it’s serious, but I don’t know,” during an appearance on the Felger and Mazz radio show on 98.5 The Sports Hub

The bad news is that this is the same knee Bernard Pollard tore up on opening day in 2008, an injury that forced Brady to miss the rest of that season. And even if this injury is not as severe, and by all appearances and accounts it’s not, it’s still a serious issue for New England.

Chances are good this will significantly decrease Brady’s practice and playing time during the preseason. Given all the new faces in the receiving corps, that’s a significant consequence. Brady needs all the time he can get to develop a rapport with his new receivers.

Sure, Danny Amendola can study his playbook and practice the routes, but what the Patriots really need is for his hands, feet and mind to be in sync with Brady. The same certainly goes for rookies Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thomkins, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld, and new veterans like Michael Jenkins, or even returning players like Julian Edelman.

Plus, learning the Patriots offense would surely be easier for the newcomers if they were doing it with Brady directing them, throwing them passes, and, as he likes to do, correcting their mistakes.

Now all of the learning and developing is more likely to take place during the regular season, and there’s not a lot of time for extra study during the first two weeks. New England opens the season in Buffalo on Sept. 8 and then hosts the Jets four days later for a Thursday night game in Foxborough. Those two games also carry a little extra weight, and possibly extra challenge, since they are in the division.

Given the early reports, it seems like Brady will have enough time to heal before the regular season begins, although there’s a chance he could miss a game or two. Yet even if he does come back in time for the opener, one has to wonder how confident he will be on that knee. Yes, he’s a professional and sure-fire Hall of Famer, but it would only be natural for him to experience a hint of doubt concerning his twice-injured knee. Maybe he’ll hesitate to plant it in the face of a rush, or not trust it to scramble.

Some have already suggested New England should trade for an experienced backup quarterback in case Brady does miss time, but this would seriously undermine the incumbent backup, Ryan Mallett. The Patriots have invested a third-round draft pick and three years of development in Mallett, they might as well see what he can do when he’s given the keys to the car. Remember, Matt Cassel wasn’t very impressive until he actually took over for Brady in 2008.

Besides, if Brady does have to miss significant time, and Mallett struggles, it would take a miracle for New England to have a successful season anyway. And the last time Patriots third-stringer Tim Tebow was an NFL starter, multiple gridiron miracles followed.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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