Often on the inactive list, Brady hit the weight room hard. By season's end the velocity on his throws had improved enough that some receivers complained that he was putting too much zing on the ball. Brady, who now weighs 220 pounds, also badgered Friesz, a 10-year veteran, for insights on the offense. This year, "he's been asking questions in meetings you normally wouldn't attribute to a second-year guy," Bledsoe says. "Instead of wondering who his second receiver on a play was, he wanted to know about reading the defense or where to put the ball when he saw a specific coverage."
"Even at the end of last year I felt like a stronger player," says Brady. "I could make throws that I couldn't make before. I was more elusive. Plus, I didn't feel I had to prove anything to myself anymore." Or to anyone else. Brady moved to No. 2 on the depth chart after winning a training-camp battle with Damon Huard, who had been a backup for the Miami Dolphins last year. (Friesz had been released during the off-season, and Bishop waived during camp.)
Brady has shown enough that opposing defenses are mixing up their coverages more and, as Bledsoe says, "preparing like they're going to face me." That may not be good news for Bledsoe, who received a 10-year, $103 million extension last March but has won only seven of his last 26 starts. Though he remains confident that he'll be the Patriots' starter for years to come, the cost of waiving or trading him in the off-season (a cap hit of $6.8 million) doesn't differ much from the price of keeping him on the roster for 2002 ($6.2 million). New England could be as much as $12 million under next year's cap and is sure to keep that in mind if Brady continues to excel. "Right now Tom is our starting quarterback," says Belichick when asked about a potential quarterback controversy. "Until Drew is cleared to play [ Bledsoe hasn't received a projection for his return and remains limited to non-contact drills], it's not even an issue."
Brady also wants it that way. "I'm still only a second-year player," he says. "People can talk about a quarterback controversy, but one thing I learned in college is that the coach decides who plays, and when he says to go in there, you play your butt off. That's all I've been trying to do."