FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Training camp is the time to take chances.
If a quarterback completes a risky pass, he could try that again during the regular season. If it’s intercepted, he knows it might be a bad idea to throw it when the games count.
But New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick still wants to see those passes in practice.
Plenty of them.
“That’s part of what practice is for,” he said Wednesday, “to take risks, to push it, to see how far it can go. To see how much you can do. Sometimes, it’s going to come up a little bit short, but if it’s done in the right context then you learn from that and you realize, ‘This is how far I can go and I can’t gamble beyond this, but I can push it this point.’
“But if you never push it to that point, I don’t think you ever really know how far it can go.”
Brady pushed it in practice. And the ball ended up in the hands of safety Patrick Chung. The interception came Tuesday when Brady threw into triple coverage in the end zone after the coaches set up a situation with the clock approaching zero.
“That’s part of what we’re talking about,” Brady said Wednesday. “We’re talking about end-of-the-game plays and trying to see what mix of plays you’re going to run.”
In real games, that can be costly. In practice, it’s just a learning experience.
“You probably do some things this time of year that you wouldn’t normally do,” Brady said, “but, at the same time, you’re trying to make good decisions, read the coverage and get the ball to the right guy.”
That goes for stars like Brady as well as a third-stringer like Ryan Mallett.
A third-round draft pick last year out of Arkansas, he’s had an inconsistent camp with the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32).
“I think Ryan has improved significantly from last year,” Belichick said. “I try not to get into those expectations because who knows? Guys progress at different rates. I think what you’re looking for is for improvement.”
Mallett also threw an interception on Tuesday but seemed to play better on Wednesday.
“As some people like to (say), every touchdown pass is a great play and every interception was the quarterback’s fault. Unfortunately, that’s just not really the way it works,” Belichick said. “Sometimes we score in spite of ourselves. Sometimes, quarterbacks do the right thing and there are breakdowns somewhere else.”
Breakdowns are less likely with an experienced offense, and Brady is working with several wide receivers he’s familiar with.
Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman and Matt Slater are all back. Former Patriots Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth returned to the team this year. And newcomer Brandon Lloyd played the past two seasons under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“The more familiarity you have with the guys you play with, the more anticipation you play with. Offensive football is about anticipation, everyone being on the same page,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of veteran players but, at the same time, it’s new plays and new (opposing) defenses and how are we executing them?”
One thing that hasn’t changed for Brady as he approaches his 13th season is his intensity and leadership.
“Everybody needs a pick-me-up every once in a while and he does a great job of trying to get guys going,” Welker said.
The Patriots are in their longest stretch of training camp, 10 days, without a game. But then it gets busy — three games in 10 days starting Monday night at home against Philadelphia.
“This week’s really felt like training camp, stringing these practices together,” Brady said. “You can never get enough work. That’s the thing about football. You can never practice enough. The better the practices are, the better your team’s ultimately going to be.”
Even if he throws risky passes in some of those practices that he wouldn’t throw in games.
“You never know how tight a window is until you throw it and it was too tight,” he said. “So you try to force the ball into certain areas and then you learn from it.”
Just like Belichick wants him to do.
“I would say every (quarterback) that I’ve coached — particularly one that I’ve coached here for a long time — we talk about that all the time,” Belichick said. “You can always make the safe throw and just take the easy throw then that’s OK. But at some point, you’re going to have to do more than that and you better know what you can do and what you can’t do.
“Better to find out in practice than in the middle of the fourth quarter that, ‘No, I can’t. I don’t want to be doing that.’ That’s not the time for it.”