Fired-up Brady remains focused

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady trash-talked to Super Bowl star Malcolm Butler.

He celebrated a second-team touchdown on a goal-line drill by raising his arms and hollering.

Sure, Brady’s impending four-game suspension and upcoming court case continue to dominate NFL headlines.

But inside the New England Patriots’ training camp bubble, Brady is as popular, competitive and focused as ever.

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“Man, he’s always fired up,” receiver Aaron Dobson said Sunday. “Practice, game days, it’s fun to have a quarterback that’s like that. It gets you fired up as well.”

Butler served as Brady’s foil on the fourth day of camp and the second straight in pads. Butler, whose goal-line interception of Seattle’s Russell Wilson sealed the title for New England in February, began chirping during drills.

“When we’re at practice, I tell Tom, ‘Throw the ball. Throw at me. Throw at me,’” Butler said.

Brady did, connecting near the end of the morning workout with Julian Edelman. The receiver popped up, spun the ball at Butler’s feet and chest-bumped Brady. The QB then let Butler have it, too.

“A little trash talk each way won’t hurt,” Butler said, smiling.

There may be a time when backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gets the bulk of the practice time with the starters so New England can prepare for Brady’s potential ban for his alleged role in tampering with footballs during the AFC title game.

Sunday was not that time. Brady took the vast majority of first-team snaps. He stayed involved when he wasn’t participating, too, celebrating as the second team scored on a running play on the final goal-line drill of the day.

“He comes out there every single day with a competitive edge,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said.

It was again up to Brady’s teammates to speak for him. A day before his 38th birthday, Brady avoided reporters. His lone comments since the NFL upheld his suspension last week came in a Facebook post claiming his innocence. The case is now headed to a New York court.

The overflow crowd spotted Brady from two fields away as he walked to practice. They stood and cheered. Later a group of fans chanted, “Free Brady!”

While Brady has familiar receivers Gronkowski, Edelman and Danny Amendola, he’s getting used to a reworked offensive line that includes rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson. That could be part of the reason Brady is seeing so much time with the first unit.

“They’re two of 11 guys that are getting a lot of opportunities,” left tackle Nate Solder said. “I think they’re improving.”

Outside of a fan’s car in an adjacent parking lot that had “Brady’s Innocent!” painted on the back window, there was little to distinguish this from any other day.

The offseason parties were over for Gronkowski, who talked in monotone and cliches. And Brady, who completed 5 of 7 passes in two sets of 11-on-11 drills, was clearly the team leader.

“It makes us feel good,” Butler said of Brady’s intensity. “He lets us know he wants to come after us and get us better. At the same time he’s getting his players better.”

NOTES: Dobson is getting plenty of work with WR Brandon LaFell, who has yet to practice as he recovers from an apparent foot injury. … Butler practiced one day earlier in camp with his fingers taped together. The reason? So he won’t draw penalties. “Holding, it hurts you,” Butler said. “Trying to prevent that from happening.” … LB Donta Hightower and DL Xzavier Dickson have worn non-contact red jerseys throughout camp.

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