Bill Belichick: Ryan Mallett now in the 'on-deck circle'

by: Christopher Price on Sun, 09/02/2012 - 4:37pm


FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick is a sports fan, so when he was asked Sunday afternoon about how things changed for Ryan Mallett over the weekend, it wasn’t a surprise to hear him use a baseball analogy.

“He’s in the on-deck circle,” Belichick said of Mallett, who was elevated to No. 2 quarterback with the release of Brian Hoyer. “He’s the next guy. ... He’s earned that spot now.”

In a brief conversation in the Patriots’ locker room Sunday before practice, Mallett acknowledged as much, but sounded like a man who’s ready to meet the challenge.

“I have a different role, obviously, than I had last year,” Mallett said. “I’m one snap away now, so I have to be ready.”

Things will change for Mallett now that he has moved up on the food chain. He’ll get more work during the week, and more will be expected of him going forward. While Belichick says the focus and approach when it comes to preparation shouldn’t change, there’s an understanding that things are different now, particularly when it comes to practice reps.

“His position is the same [and] his responsibility is the same, but he’s going to get more opportunities in practice to prepare and he’s closer to being in the game as the backup rather than as the third,” Belichick said.

“Who knows what’s going to happen? He should have prepared last year the way he prepared this year or the way Tom [Tom Brady] prepares as the starter,” Belichick added. “Everybody prepares like they’re going to be in the game, they’re going to play it and we’re going to count on them. Everybody should be doing the same thing as far as that goes. But [Mallett’s] practice opportunities will go up as the second guy as opposed to the third guy, of course.”

While there were several positional battles over the course of the summer, one of the most intriguing was at the backup quarterback position, where Hoyer and Mallett were vying for the job. Hoyer, who was the primary backup to Brady for the last three seasons, appeared to have the inside track when camp kicked off.

But in the eyes of the coaching staff, Mallett improved over the course of the summer, so much so that he was taking the bulk of the snaps toward the end of the preseason. He started two preseason games, and certainly got more work than Hoyer -- after going back and tallying up the preseason snaps, Mallett took 123, while Hoyer finished with 87.

Whether this was a function of Mallett’s surge or the fact that the team already knew what it had in Hoyer is debatable. Regardless, the Patriots really went out of their way to get an extended look at Mallett over the summer, and apparently, they liked what they saw enough to cut ties with their already established backup. Mallett concluded the preseason 33-for-67 for 300 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. The completion percentage wasn’t where the Patriots would ultimately like it to be -- 60 percent is the baseline for the franchise -- but there were enough flashes there to warrant a promotion for the Arkansas product.

“I feel more comfortable, but I’m still working just to get all the little things down. That’s what I’m going to continue to do,” Mallett said when asked about his work in the preseason. “I felt better, as opposed to last year, not knowing as much as this year. I felt like I played OK. I still have some improvements I have to make, but I feel a lot more comfortable than last year.”

Mallett’s distinguishing characteristic as a quarterback is his arm strength, and while the New England offense is more about efficiency and horizontal play with short and intermediate routes, when Mallett has had the chance to cut loose, he’s made some impressive throws. While the decision-making can occasionally be questioned, one NFL scout says Mallett “has more arm strength than most quarterbacks in the league.”

“Mallett has exceptional arm talent and the perfect mentor,” said one NFL scout, “and if he can learn how to manage the game and let big plays come to him, he can be successful in that system.”

However, does Mallett’s big arm necessarily mesh with New England’s offensive style?

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the Patriots will take advantage of his arm talent and minimize the risks, if he has to play,” added the scout. “They currently feature an offense based off of the efficiency, accuracy and leadership of Brady, and are more of a stretch the field horizontal team. He can make them a vertical team.”

The quarterback said Sunday morning that when it comes to arm strength, “you just have to know when to use it.” But at the same time, it’s about more than that.

“It’s the decisions you make -- you have to be able to get the ball to them,” he said. “I’m not worried about my arm strength as much as everybody else worries about it. I just worry about decision making -- making the right decisions and getting the ball where it needs to go.”

Mallett takes over the job from Hoyer, and while he’s sad to see Hoyer depart, he’s aware of the reality of the situation.

“It’s a business. You’re sad to see him go; he’s a good friend of mine now. You just have to move on,” Mallett said of Hoyer. “He helped me a lot.”