FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett has noticeably taken part of the team's pregame warm-ups this season despite being inactive in nine of 10 games.
It's been unique compared to recent seasons when the Patriots only carried two quarterbacks on the active roster, but it might be a sign of how the Patriots view Mallett. After all — and this probably isn't a fair comparison, but it's worth pointing it out — Tom Brady didn't do that in 2000, at least according to Bill Belichick's memory.
Before getting too excited, Belichick made sure to note it's not "the key to developing a quarterback," but there are some positives to take out of it. Mallett can get a feel for an NFL pregame atmosphere, and he can take a first-hand look to see how Brady prepares as a starter and how Brian Hoyer gets focused in his backup role.
When inactive, Mallett hasn't taken part in going through the route tree with the receivers, but he'll usually stay with Hoyer and watch him go through his warm-ups. Mallett has played catch on the side here and there, but he tends to spend his time observing the offense.
"It's just part of the game experience," Belichick said. "As a backup quarterback, if you put yourself mentally through all the situations that the guy who is in there experiences, you could certainly learn from it. And you can sharpen your mental skills, and your thought process and all that, and that's valuable if it's used properly."
Mallett, a third-round pick out of Arkansas, has made good use of his time in his rookie season. He stayed after practice on a regular basis in training camp to work on his footwork and mobility, which was probably his greatest knock as a player coming out of college. And Belichick said Mallett has continued to put in work after practice in the regular season.
"I think he's made a lot of improvements, as Brady did," Belichick said. "Brady's rookie year, he was like 205 or 207 [pounds] or whatever it was. He gained a lot of strength in both his upper and his lower body. That's helped him, both in throwing and taking hits, durability and all that. Ryan has definitely gotten on that program. He spends a lot of time in the weight room and doing what we ask him to do."
The majority of Mallett's practice time comes with the scout team offense, but the positive aspect there is he plays against the Patriots' first-team defense. Belichick said that can be a very valuable learning tool, too, and noted how it helped Phil Simms develop as a rookie in 1979.
"I think those reps are good, too, because as a quarterback, you make that competitive," Belichick said. "You're trying to complete a pass and execute a play against a defense that sort of knows it's coming, and they're sort of geared to stop it, hopefully. That's a competitive situation, too. I remember my first year at the Giants, one of the things that I did as a special teams coach was kind of run the scout team offense for the defensive coaches. That was Simms' rookie year, and he wasn't playing a lot, so he was the scout team quarterback. I really gained a tremendous appreciation for Phil in that season of just how good he was, how accurate he was.
"When we would have a route drawn up on the card, and throw it to this receiver, and there are four guys around the receiver, and he still could get it into them. I remember walking off the practice field a number of days saying, 'Man, that guy can really throw the ball accurately. This guy is going to be a good quarterback.' He had some other things he needed to get straightened out, but just in terms of throwing it to a spot, threading the needle — which in practice you can do; it's not always recommended in a game, but in practice you're supposed to throw to a guy — and there's three or four guys there, and you find a spot and sling it in there, and he could do that. I'm not comparing [Mallett] to Phil Simms now, but I'm just saying it's that same opportunity for our other quarterbacks, Ryan, Brian. But Mallett has made some impressive throws in practice."