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Matthew Slater on Tom Brady: 'Very encouraging ... He's the same Tom'

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia -- This was Tom Brady at his best.

New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, who doubles as a wide receiver, summed it up succinctly after Thursday's joint practice session with the New Orleans Saints.

"When a guy is clicking like that, it's pretty much obvious to everyone who is watching," he said. "We're very fortunate around here to have a guy who, more often than not, is going to be clicking like that. It's good for our football team. We feed off of his energy. When he's playing well, we're usually playing well.

"So it was a good day for us. Very encouraging."

Brady took every repetition in practice, with Jimmy Garoppolo essentially getting the day off. It's the first time we've seen such a decisive split in that direction since training camp opened July 30.

In all, Brady had just four incompletions and tossed 13 touchdowns in practice, according to the charting of Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

Given all the uncertainty surrounding Brady with his fight against the NFL, I asked Slater how much he sensed Brady appreciates simply being able to play football and focus on his craft.

"I haven't seen any difference in his approach or the way he's treated his teammates, in the way he's prepared himself," he said. "He's the same Tom. You can't help but respect him for that and appreciate what he does for this football team and what he means for this football team."

A few other observations from practice:

  • Brady was one of the last players to leave the field after the session, putting in some extra work with resistance bands.

  • Third-year center/guard Josh Kline, who didn't practice Wednesday, was back in full pads on Thursday. But receiver Brian Tyms and fullback Eric Kettani were new absences.

  • Top swing tackle Marcus Cannon left the practice after appearing to sustain an injury. He had just returned to practice on Saturday after an extended absence.

  • With the receiving corps thinned with injuries, Slater took additional reps at that spot and showed up multiple times on vertical routes down the field, one of which was a touchdown from about 30 yards out.

  • Second straight day in which receiver Josh Boyce also showed up with a long catch down the field.

  • Veteran cornerback Tarell Brown has spent a lot of time working alongside Malcolm Butler in recent practices, and looks like he's moving well. He's showing up with plays on the ball.

  • Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown was on hand for the second day in a row and worked with the team's receivers and punt returners. He answered questions from reporters after practice.

  • Bubba Watson of the PGA Tour and NBA legend Jerry West were present for the second straight day.

  • Cornerback Malcolm Butler, linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive end Geneo Grissom, left tackle Nate Solder and defensive end Rob Ninkovich were among Patriots players answering questions from reporters after the session.