Tom Brady confident at Patriots camp
Bits and pieces of gray stubble jut out from of his chin and cheeks these days, hard to notice if you're not looking close enough.
A black brace is always secured to his surgically repaired left knee.
His hair is shorter, showcasing a slightly receding hairline.
One careful look at Tom Brady might reveal that he is celebrating his 35th birthday Friday.
Then the three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New England Patriots takes the field at training camp, the unquestioned leader of the team appearing as driven and determined as ever despite entering his 13th season with the franchise.
''I still feel like a young kid out here trying to earn a spot and I think trying to be a good example,'' Brady said Saturday. ''Obviously, I have more experience than most of the guys out here, but you still try to bring enthusiasm and leadership and try to go out and do your job.''
After February's 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, Brady's record-tying fifth championship game appearance, the organization clearly made a concerted effort to try and make that job a little bit easier, bringing in a bunch of familiar faces from Brady's unparalleled past.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who guided the Patriots' record-setting offense in 2007 when Brady tossed a league-record 50 touchdowns, is calling the plays again after serving as head coach of the Denver Broncos and offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.
Receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth, both members of that 2007 squad that went 16-0 in the regular season, also are back in the fold, adding two more weapons to Brady's dynamic cache, which already included receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
''I think competition's good for all of us,'' Brady said. ''I don't think it's anyone that's earned a spot. You've got to earn it every year. I think the one thing about this place is there's no entitlement to the positions out here. You do it based on what you earn. And that's why you come out here every day working hard to develop that trust from your coaches and your teammates, so that they want you out there.''
Gaffney, who played for New England from 2006-08, said Brady hasn't changed a bit.
''He's still the same — full of energy, loves to compete, wants to win on every play,'' he said. ''And that helps us out, when you see quarterback like that who wants to win on just every play in practice. I mean, that's a guy that's inspiring.''
He's certainly having that effect on Brandon Lloyd.
The deep threat who had by far his most productive season for McDaniels in Denver in 2010, amassing 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns, is still developing a rapport with Brady, constantly standing side-by-side with his quarterback at camp whenever the two aren't donning helmets.
''We're continuing to talk and work together and seeing what one another is expecting out of the route running,'' Lloyd said, ''and eventually it will start clicking.''
Brady is convinced it will, too.
''He wants to be a big part of this offense. I obviously want to help him become a big part of this offense, so there's constant communication between the two of us,'' the two-time league MVP said. ''I've thrown the ball to a lot of the guys really except Brandon, so he and I have some extra work that we've got to put in.''
Brady is coming off one of the best seasons of his illustrious career.
He threw 39 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions and passed for a career-high 5,235 yards, joining New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in breaking Dan Marino's mark for the most passing yards in a single season.
But it's not just his on-field play that's well-documented anymore.
In fact, he and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, have a difficult time going anywhere without being noticed by the paparazzi.
Brady was recently captured on camera cliff diving in Costa Rica, saying Saturday that it's getting harder and harder to keep his private life just that.
He doesn't seem to mind, though.
''I was thinking maybe about the Olympic diving team, but it's hard not to make that splash,'' Brady joked of his leap. ''I'm glad we're back playing football. That's what I enjoy most.''
He may be older, wiser and reportedly has another child on the way, but Brady's modus operandi will never waver.
''That's the only thing that matters. That's the only thing that matters with your training, practicing, nutrition, rehab — it's to win,'' he said. ''Everything that you do when you come out here is about winning and being the best you can be to this team.''
As players continue to carousel around the league, including four-time league MVP Peyton Manning leaving the Indianapolis Colts after 13 seasons and signing with Denver, Brady gains a greater fondness for playing his entire career in the one place.
And when he turns 36 during training camp next summer, his passion will likely still be right there with him.
''I love playing quarterback for this team. It's a great responsibility to have and I appreciate it every single day,'' Brady said. ''There's nothing I'd rather do than be out here being a quarterback for this team. My life's pretty much built around that.
''To be out here when practice starts and to be with your teammates, there's nothing more fun than that. You've got to work as hard as you can so that you can be the best quarterback for this team that I could possibly be. So, that's what I think about every single day when I get up.''