Oct 5, 2016 7:39 PM

Patriots players re-energized by Tom Brady's return to practice

FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady is back practicing with the Patriots, and the MVP is already changing the atmosphere around Gillette Stadium, no matter how hard the players tried to hide it.

On Wednesday, Brady made his first appearance in front of the media since his four-game suspension ended. He didn’t speak on camera, but his actions out on the practice field showed enough of what people have been waiting to see over the last four weeks.

For head coach Bill Belichick, it was business as usual ahead of the Patriots’ match-up against the Cleveland Browns, the team’s first away game since Week 1.

Belichick dodged questions about how Brady’s return was impacting the team.

“Right now, our focus is on Cleveland,” he said. “We can’t do anything about what was or wasn’t the last four weeks. We’re into Cleveland week, and that’s all our focus is.”

Players had quite a different reaction and were noticeably more upbeat in and around the locker room on Wednesday. It’s important to note Rob Ninkovich also returned to the team after serving his own four-game suspension. Before the season, he tested positive for a banned substance.

With two key players back in the mix, some reiterated Belichick’s thoughts on the situation.

“Obviously, having them back doesn’t solve all our issues,” team captain Devin McCourty said, adding nothing seemed different this week. “It’s not like [Cleveland] has gone out there, rolled over and get beat bad. It’s a good football team. We’d be pretty foolish to go in there and think that we have everything…that we just need to show up and everything will work in our favor.”

Others had a hard time hiding their excitement to get back to work with their full starting roster.

“He’s the leader of our offense,” Rob Gronkowski said during a press conference. “It’s just like any other week, except Tom’s back at quarterback, baby.”

Wide receiver Danny Amendola said he greeted both Brady and Ninkovich with big hugs, welcoming them back.

“It’s good to have good teammates back, good friends back, and I know they’re excited to play some football,” he said. “[Brady] looks great, tan, happy, pumped. We’re all ready to get to work.”

Brady took the practice field with confidence, throwing the ball upwards of 40 yards during warm ups.

He did so along Jimmy Garoppolo, who was throwing like his shoulder injury was mostly – if not completely – healed. The young quarterback was still listed on the team’s injury report as “limited participation,” but he still appeared healthy.

Rookie Jacoby Brissett, who performed admirably in Weeks 3 and 4, didn’t participate in the same throwing drills.

Chris Long also expressed looking forward to having fellow defensive end Ninkovich back.

“You have to ask him [how he feels], he looks good though, so I’m excited,” Long said. “We got a lot of great players on this defense that are ready to just step up and do their job, and I’m sure Rob feels the same way about his role.”

Even though Cleveland is the only NFL team that hasn’t won any games yet, statistically, the Browns lead the league in rushing and could pose a new challenge to the Patriots on both ends of the field.

“They capitalize on a lot of offensive mistakes with their effort and aggressiveness,” Belichick said of the Browns’ defense. “[We} have to do a great job of taking care of the ball.”

Kickoff in Cleveland is on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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