What will we see when Brady comes into view?

May, 27, 2009
5/27/09
3:49
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Instead of a stop-sign-red quarterback jersey, the New England Patriots might be tempted to dress him in a fluorescent construction vest just to be sure.

 
  AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
  On Thursday, Tom Brady will make his first on-field public appearance since suffering two torn knee ligaments in the 2008 opener.

And assign a pair of armed bodyguards to line up on either side of him before the snap. And fit all the defensive players with invisible-fence shock collars in case they get too far behind the line of scrimmage.

Tom Brady is back on the field with his teammates at organized team activities this week in Foxborough, Mass. No contact is allowed, but when your franchise quarterback is coming back from a shredded knee, heightened anxiety would be understandable.

By all accounts, however, nothing appears out of the ordinary these days for Tom Terrific.

Brady looks perfectly normal to the naked eye. He doesn't have a limp. He doesn't grimace when he walks. He doesn't need to spray WD-40 on his left knee before he breaks into a trot.

We'll get a chance to see for ourselves Thursday, when Brady makes his first on-field public appearance since suffering two torn knee ligaments in the Sept. 7 season opener.

Aside from 10 seconds of surprise footage that captured Brady in a sweat-soaked T-shirt and sweatpants, tossing the ball around before the NCAA lacrosse championships Monday at Gillette Stadium, we haven't had the chance to see how Brady is progressing.

But what we observe and the cameras record Thursday probably won't suggest anything at all is amiss.

"You're going to see a solid-looking quarterback," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said confidently.

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Sources close to Brady insist he has nailed the major rehab target points throughout his recovery from torn anterior-cruciate and medial-collateral ligaments, that because of concentrated therapy he was testing stronger in February than at any point before the injury.

"Right now, I'm doing everything. Literally everything," Brady told writer Peter King for this week's Sports Illustrated cover story. "There's nothing I can't do."

I asked Bell for a primer on what an untrained observer should look for Thursday.

Bell explained any problems with Brady's knee almost would be imperceptible, but she laid out five questions to keep in mind when monitoring him on the field:

  • Does he have confidence in his plant leg?
  • Does he maneuver well in traffic or get spooked when defenders close in?
  • Does he step into his throws and deliver the ball downfield?
  • Does he have lateral mobility, especially to his right?
  • Can he pivot to his right on handoffs?

"If he struggles performing as a quarterback, you can chalk that up to rust as much as you could chalk it up to the injury," said Bell, a physical therapist who specializes in athletes and performing artists. "The more obvious things you would expect to see after surgery like this -- limping, favoring the leg -- those things should all be long gone by now."

Bell's attention would be drawn to how Brady reacts in certain situations.

Brady's ability to move to his right is important. The MCL is on the inside of the knee. If he wants to run or turn to his right, he needs a healthy left MCL to push off or pivot.

"We should watch out to see if he's comfortable moving to either direction, moving to hand the ball off, particularly to his right," Bell said. "Is he comfortable getting flushed out of the pocket and rolling to his right?"

Bell dismissed concerns of any lingering consequences from the persistent staph infection Brady dealt with shortly after his surgery. Various reports suggested Brady's knee was being destroyed by the infection.

"I think complications of the infection are long behind him," Bell said.

Brady didn't appear to be wearing a brace when he played catch Monday. He wore baggy sweatpants, so some device might have been under there, but it wasn't bulky.

Bell would be shocked if Brady wasn't wearing one on the field Thursday.

"You expect to see a quarterback with this type of injury wearing a brace, particularly with the fact it is his lead leg," Bell said. "It was a contact injury. He got rolled up on.

"Although the brace is not 100 percent guaranteed to prevent a recurrence of injury, it can help should that same thing happen again. But it's standard for a quarterback to wear a brace like that. So fans shouldn't be alarmed if they see him in one."

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