- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

Tom Brady helped set what has to be some kind of unofficial NFL record Thursday. During the New England Patriots’ first organized team activity open to the media, the team issued 96 credentials.

Wearing a brace on his left knee, which was injured in last year’s opener, Brady did three-, five- and seven-step drops. Reports said he was off-target, rustiness that’s to be expected.

“My body feels good,” said Brady, who talked to reporters for nearly 25 minutes. “My arm feels good. I’m not completing as many passes as I want, but we haven’t been out here very long.”

All eyes will be on Brady from now until he takes his first hit, whether it’s during a preseason that includes an Aug. 28 visit to FedEx Field or during the Monday night opener against Buffalo.

If Brady is healthy, the Patriots should be the Super Bowl favorites.

Sure, Pittsburgh returns 20 of its 22 starters, Indianapolis still has Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne and San Diego has the running combo of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.

But the Patriots have Brady.

Gearing up for his return, the Patriots were active this offseason. They didn’t spend big money, but they did acquire several veterans — running back Fred Taylor, tight end Chris Baker, receivers Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis and cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden.

The Patriots went 11-5 last year without Brady, but that wasn’t good enough for a playoff spot in the ultracompetitive AFC. In Brady’s last full season, New England started 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants. He threw 50 touchdowns in 2007.

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said when asked if he can be the same player. “Like I said, talk is cheap. I could sit here and tell you guys I’m going to play until I’m 80, but that doesn’t matter. … I can’t wait to get out there and start playing games.”

AROUND THE NFC

*A first-round draft pick two years ago, Anthony Spencer is expected to replace Greg Ellis as Dallas’ starting outside linebacker opposite DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys are exploring trade options for Ellis, who will turn 34 in August and whose departure would create $4 million in salary cap space. Spencer, 25, has 70 tackles in 28 career games as he transitioned from defensive end to linebacker. “As long as he doesn’t get hurt, I don’t think his progress will be stopped,” coach Wade Phillips said.

*The Giants took the field Wednesday for the first time since losing to Philadelphia in the divisional round of the playoffs. Present for the workout was defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who missed last year with a knee injury. “It was definitely fun,” he said. “It felt weird — I was a little rusty. … I think all the work that I’ve put in the past year or so has really paid off. I feel explosive.” Umenyiora added that the pain “is basically gone. There’s a little bit, but that’s been there since I’ve been in the NFL.”

*The Cardinals-Anquan Boldin saga might be nearing a resolution after the receiver fired agent Drew Rosenhaus this week. The move — although Rosenhaus hopes to be rehired - was applauded by Boldin’s teammates as an act of good faith that confirmed his desire to work something out with Arizona. Boldin is due $2.75 million this year and $3 million in 2010 but wants a contract closer to Larry Fitzgerald’s four-year, $40 million deal. The Cardinals want to keep Boldin, but only at a reasonable price.

*Carolina won the NFC South last year but enters the summer with one huge issue: Julius Peppers’ status. Peppers continues to boycott all voluntary activities, hasn’t signed his $17 million franchise tender and wants a trade. He isn’t expected for the start of training camp, and if he makes a really dumb decision, he could sit out the season and forfeit the huge salary. A trade could develop during the preseason if a team loses its best pass rusher and makes a panic move.

AROUND THE AFC

*Denver coach Josh McDaniels has certainly kept busy during his first offseason (see: Cutler, Jay) but one position has remained unchanged and noncompetitive. Matt Prater remains the only kicker on the roster even though he missed eight of his last 19 field goal attempts and wondered about his job status. An odd stat: He was 5-for-6 from 50 yards and beyond but 5-for-11 on attempts from 40 to 49 yards. “I’m still competing with all the other guys that are [free agents],” he said. “As long as I’m doing what I’ve been doing, I’m pretty confident I’ll keep the job.”

*Buffalo’s offensive line is undergoing a complete makeover — none of the projected starters returns at the same position. The early lineup is left tackle Langston Walker (moving from right tackle), right tackle Brad Butler (moving from right guard), center Geoff Hangarten (free agent from Carolina), right guard Eric Wood (first-round pick) and left guard Andy Levitre (second-round pick). Walker and Butler are the only two returning Bills. “It won’t be easy,” coach Dick Jauron said. “There’s no doubt it’s a challenge. I believe we have the right group of guys for it.”

*D.C. native Joshua Cribbs still wants Cleveland to redo his contract, but he changed course this week and began attending workouts. “I’m here to play football, and however way it works itself out, I’m going to be on this football team,” he said. Cribbs continues to say the Browns’ previous regime promised to renegotiate but declined to say if owner Randy Lerner was involved in that discussion.

*The New York Jets saw one running back return this week and another go away. Thomas Jones, whose 1,312 rushing yards led the AFC last year, returned to voluntary workouts even though he wants a new contract; he’s entering the third season of a four-year, $20 million deal. Backup Leon Washington, meanwhile, continues to boycott all activities. He’s due $535,000 but is believed to want $6 million a year — similar to deals signed by Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles. That’s not going to happen.

FRIDAY FIVE

Impact second-round draft picks.

1. Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati (38th pick) — The former Southern Cal star has a chip on his shoulder after falling out of the first round, but Marvin Lewis will make him a tackle machine.

2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia (53rd pick) — Brian Westbrook usually doesn’t make it through a season, so McCoy (1,488 rushing yards last year) will have an opportunity to produce.

3. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland (36th pick) — Second-round receivers have a tough transition, but Robiskie has already impressed and will complement Braylon Edwards.

4. Pat White, QB, Miami (44th pick) — The Wildcat offense should suit White perfectly if the Dolphins choose to make him a jack-of-all-trades player.

5. Connor Barwin, DE, Houston (46th pick) — The former tight end isn’t big (6-foot-4, 256), but his quickness off the edge helped him get 12 sacks last year.

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