Belichick Sets Up Battle for Role as Brady’s Backup

Belichick Sets Up Battle for Role as Brady's Backup FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — From now through the end of the season, if New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media at Gillette Stadium, you’ll read about it here. We’ll highlight one lesson learned from each of Belichick’s press conferences and have it ready for you right away.

The Setup: Belichick was asked about Monday’s release of quarterback Kevin O’Connell, the team’s 2008 third-round pick who entered camp as Tom Brady’s primary backup.

What Belichick Said: “Kevin was put in a position last year because of some circumstances. I think he has worked hard, is a very athletic player. I think football is important to him. I like a lot of things about Kevin. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out here. We’ve got to do what we feel like is best for the team. There’s not a lot of things that I could say to him, like, ‘Well, if you would have done this differently, or you would have done that differently.’ We gave him the opportunities that we could, and we evaluated what we saw from our players and we made decisions based on that. I don’t know really any other way to put it.”

What It Means: One of the side effects of Brady’s injury last season actually hurt O’Connell, who lost his practice squad eligibility because he was on the active roster all year. It’s a quirky rule that can really stunt the development of younger players who need the extra time to grow on a team’s practice squad, a la a redshirt freshman in college.

While O’Connell wasn’t a model of consistency throughout the team’s 2009 training camp and preseason, it was still a shock to see him get cut. He completed just 12-of-26 passes (46.2 percent) for 108 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions this preseason, and he really didn’t show much improvement from last year. Belichick said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if O’Connell wound up playing in this league down the road, but as it currently stood, O’Connell wasn’t ready to make an impact for the Patriots.

This also shows Belichick’s trust in rookie quarterback Brian Hoyer, who became the team’s third-stringer behind Brady and Andrew Walter. For Hoyer to be placed on the practice squad, he’d have to clear waivers — meaning every team in the NFL would have a chance to claim Hoyer and place him on their active roster — and re-sign with the Patriots next Sunday. It was obviously a gamble Belichick didn’t want to take, and he chose to release O’Connell instead.

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