FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The only problems that got Tom Brady off the field were thunder and lightning.

The New England Patriots' star quarterback even kept playing through a torrential downpour Thursday, leading the offense through its paces.

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"Throughout the monsoon, or whatever you want to call it," wide receiver Greg Lewis said, "he was fired up: `Let's get up to the huddle, break the huddle, let's get out there and get this thing right.' "

Brady was back on the first day of the Patriots' training camp, taking snaps just as he did before he was knocked off the field for the 2008 season by a left knee injury in the first quarter of the opener.

Brady dropped back and threw a 20-yard pass that bounced off Ray Ventrone's hand, a sideline pass that just eluded Wes Welker and a long completion over the middle to seventh-round draft pick Julian Edelman. Brady also made handoffs and faked others.

"Any time you have your best player on the team back, it's a great thing," Welker said.

About an hour into practice, clouds moved into the area. A heavy rain began. Umbrellas sprouted. Fans abandoned the hillside and metal bleachers next to the field. But the Patriots stayed out there -- until a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning sent them running for cover during a field-goal drill, ending the session about a half-hour earlier than planned.

"I don't mind a wet ball out there, but (we've) got to call it when thunder and lightning are in the area," coach Bill Belichick said.

It was a sunny day in Foxborough last Sept. 7 when Brady, trying to pass, was hit in the lower left leg by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard. Brady lay on the field, then was helped off. Matt Cassel replaced Brady as quarterback and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, but they missed a playoff spot because of a tiebreaker.

Now Cassel is with the Chiefs, to whom he was traded, and Brady is blending back in with the Patriots.

Running back Kevin Faulk has been in New England since 1999, one year before Brady arrived as a sixth-round draft pick from Michigan. Faulk doesn't believe he has to see Brady do anything special before deciding the 2007 NFL MVP is ready to play at full strength.

"I might have seen it already," Faulk said. "When he's out there, he's out there. Nobody's paying attention to him. Nothing different from when he was there last year. He's just playing football. That's it."

Brady's fitness was no surprise to his teammates. They have practiced with him in optional team activities, a minicamp in May and informal workouts.

"All the players that are out there are ready to go," Belichick said. "They are participating fully."

Brady, who's expected to talk to reporters Friday, normally doesn't play much in the exhibition season, which starts Aug. 13 at Philadelphia. But Belichick wouldn't say how much he plans on using Brady in this summer's games.

"We've thought more about this afternoon's practice and what we have to do there," the coach said. "We have a lot of short-term goals and are very shortsighted here."

Welker and Randy Moss, who practiced Thursday afternoon after sitting out the morning session, lead a deep receiving corps with Joey Galloway and Lewis.

Belichick must decide on replacements for outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who went to the Chiefs in the Cassel trade, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who was traded to the Eagles. The coach also must decide how to apportion time among three over-30 running backs -- Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor -- and fourth-year veteran Laurence Maroney.

Taylor signed with the Patriots as a free agent after spending his entire 11-season career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for whom he rushed for 11,271 yards and caught 286 passes.

But Taylor never had a quarterback like Brady.

"Playing these guys a few times here in the playoffs, you look over and you're like, 'Ah, we can go and beat that team. What do they do that we can't do? We can go and win this game,' " Taylor said. "And when you get here, you see his passion, you see the way he studies, you see how demanding he is of his players and the leadership, and right in front of you, it just jumps out, and you see why he's a proven winner."

Brady's personal life made headlines with his marriage to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and Faulk seemed puzzled by that.

"I got married a few years ago, too," he said to a roomful of laughter, "but nobody talked about that."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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