With all due respect to Matt Cassel, no one can bring it like Tom Brady.
Patriots running back Sammy Morris was reminded of that during a recent workout in Foxborough. Brady was throwing passes to Morris, and got a quick reminder that even after last year’s knee injury, No. 12 is unlike anyone else.
“He threw me a ball, and you could still hear that little whistle on the ball,” Morris said recently in between workouts at Gillette Stadium. “It’s been a while since I heard that.
“He looks good. Obviously, no one really saw him a whole lot when he was rehabbing during the season last year. But he looks good,” Morris said of Brady. “I think the way he looks and the way he feels and the way he approaches the game, it’s a trickle-down. I think everybody else feels better too.”
The reminder that Brady is close to a return is enough to make the rest of the New England offense feel pretty good about themselves, but Morris is a guy who deserves to feel good no matter who’s under center. With Laurence Maroney lost for the bulk of last season because of injury, the 6-foot, 220-pound bruiser essentially became the Patriots’ No. 1 back. He finished the 2008 season as the only New England running back with more than 100 carries — he had a career-high 156 — and led the team with 727 rushing yards, another career-best. In addition, he had the most rushing touchdowns on the team with seven.
“Sammy is good. He is a good player and a good back,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said late last season after Morris finished with 114 yards in a win over the Raiders in Oakland. “He catches the ball well. He runs hard. He has good quickness and plays with good power. He does a lot of things well.”
However, barring injury, it looks like New England will return to running back by committee this fall, with Morris joining Maroney, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and newcomer Fred Taylor. A mostly veteran group, it’s a collection of players that average seven years in the league, an amazing number considering the usual shelf life of most running backs.
“Everyone is looking good. I think everyone is excited,” Morris said of his fellow running backs, most of whom work together at the same time every day. “We have a good mix of veteran guys — me and Kevin are hitting our 10th and 11th years — and Lawrence going into his fourth year, and even Benny coming into his second year is working as hard as can be. I think we have a good group. Obviously, we’re still waiting to get Fred in. He’s going into his 12th year, so we know he’s going to do what he’s got to do. I think we have a good group.”
One of the reasons Morris — as well as many of the other backs on the New England roster — has continued to be productive relatively late in his career has a lot to do with how he’s been used. Even though he’s entering his 10th season, Morris has never been a featured back for a full season, and hasn’t had to absorb the pounding that many No. 1 backs have taken in the past.
The same is true for most of New England’s other running backs — with the exception of Taylor and a single season for Faulk and most of a full year for Maroney, none of them have been asked to be the feature back over the course of a full 16-game season. It’s allowed them to stay relatively fresh late into their careers, and should allow the New England ground game to flourish again this year.
“We have a pretty good variety of guys we can use,” Morris said. “They all have a wide range of abilities.”
Veteran smarts have always defined Morris. After nine years in the league, he’s built a reputation as an intelligent and disciplined player who’s been popular at every stop in the NFL. The 32-year-old, who spent part of his offseason in the Middle East visiting U.S. troops, said one of the secrets to his longevity is finding an ability to balance football with the rest of his life, especially in the offseason.
“One of the tasks of the offseason is to manage everything you do away from football. The workouts are the first thing I do, and then after that, you kind of get bogged down doing a whole bunch of things,” he said. “In the season, you just drop all that stuff and focus on football. I’m trying to manage both of those, and still trying to manage rest in there as well.
“But as far as how long a break I need for me physically, as well as mentally, I’ve kind of gotten a good idea as to how much time I need.”
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com.