- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So let's say you bumped into New England Patriots offensive lineman and first-rate enforcer Logan Mankins, with the chance to ask him the "Is Tom Brady still elite?" question that had local sports-talk-radio buzzing earlier this week.
Thoughts on what might be the most likely response?
A) He'd punch you in the face without addressing the topic.
B) He'd scowl, then answer with a decisive "yes" to back his QB with no elaboration.
C) He'd consider words players see each day entering Gillette Stadium -- "ignore the noise" -- and keep on walking.
Thankfully, Mankins might be a nasty brawler on the field, but he's a thoughtful, well-spoken gentleman off it, which is why the answer is actually D) None of the Above.
What Mankins did Thursday when the topic was broached to him after the Patriots' organized team activity was flash a puzzled look before he asked a question of his own.
"Why would someone ask me that?" he responded.
So it was explained to Mankins, who obviously doesn't listen to sports talk radio and hasn't Googled "Tom Brady, elite quarterbacks" recently, that there had been a bit of a media-driven situation about whether the soon-to-be-37 Brady had fallen from the Mount Rushmore ranks among NFL quarterbacks. A column by Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, written on ESPN.com, sparked a flurry of debate ... and a flurry of other columns locally and beyond that had fiery opinions of their own.
With that background and context in place, Mankins shared his viewpoint from the left guard spot he's occupied since 2005, making him the third-longest tenured player on the team, behind Brady and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and some people are just wrong a lot of times, but in my eyes Tom Brady is elite. He's still got it," said Mankins, a six-time Pro Bowler. "He has a great arm still. He's smarter than probably 99 percent of the quarterbacks. He's the same old guy. He's here, working hard, he has a command of the system, and we truly appreciate blocking for him.
"He's dedicated," Mankins continued. "His body, he takes good care of it and he's got all these wizards, or whatever you call them, taking care of him. He still has the love of the game and I think that's what motivates him to stay in top condition and to keep pushing himself."
The push has continued over the last two weeks in practice -- the Patriots have had six on-field sessions and four more scheduled for next week -- and one would be hard-pressed to notice any difference in Brady between 2014 and organized team activities from past years.
He's still the most vocal player on the field, at one point last week imploring receivers to keep running on "go" routes instead of slowing down. When the mistakes were repeated, he fumed. He's still capable of making throws to all parts of the field, and he looks to be in tip-top condition; it will be interesting to see if he once again earns an award for his work in the offseason program.
While Mankins has come to know all these things to be true about Brady, it is all new territory for receiver Brandon LaFell, who spent the last four years in Carolina.
"Everything I heard is dead-on," LaFell relayed. "He's going to give you his best every day and if things aren't going right, he's not going to sugarcoat it."
LaFell hooked up with Brady on one of the nicer plays of practice Thursday, a touch, high-arcing 7-yard touchdown pass in the back left-hand corner of the end zone in a red-zone passing drill. It was a perfect read and throw.
There's obviously a long way to go, and there are no finished products on the football field in early June, but this Brady looks a lot like the Brady we've seen over the years.
So is he still elite? And does it even matter?
Mankins, for one, seemed amused at the topic. We understand why.
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