FOXBORO, Mass. — Many NFL players consider training camp a grind, a necessary hurdle that must be cleared before the real football can begin.
Not quarterback Danny Etling, though. Two days into his first camp as a New England Patriot, the seventh-round draft pick is having the time of his life.
“It’s actually pretty awesome,” Etling told NESN.com after Friday’s practice, with a huge smile on his face. “I remember being a kid and going to the (Indianapolis) Colts training camps, and it was just awesome. And now you come out here, there’s 15,000 people, and they’re all cheering? It’s a pretty surreal feeling to be a part of this. I’m really excited and happy.”
While certainly new and exciting for the 24-year-old Terre Haute, Ind., native, Etling’s training camp experience thus far has been typical of any third-string QB. With Tom Brady and veteran backup Brian Hoyer receiving the lion’s share of reps during 11-on-11 drills, Etling has had to settle for just a handful each day. He attempted just five passes during the full-team portion Thursday and six on Friday.
That’s why, after both practices, Etling has been one of the last players to leave the field. Each day, he’s spent close to half an hour after the final horn working on an array of quarterbacking techniques, from footwork to release point to route concepts.
“Anything and everything,” he said.
Etling also uses these post-practice sessions to address any errors made earlier in the day. And, as one would expect from a late-round rookie, he’s been far from perfect so far.
He completed four of five passes Thursday but also fumbled a snap and was forced to run a lap as punishment. Then, on Friday, he connected on his first two passes in 11-on-11s but missed on his next four.
On his final attempt of the day, Etling didn’t see Devin McCourty lurking behind running back Ralph Webb near the right sideline, resulting in an easy goal-line interception for the veteran safety. A rookie mistake.
After practice, Etling could be seen working with wide receiver Devin Lucien on throws to his right.
“You just try to get everything you can,” Etling said. “Maybe some reps you saw in practice that you would want an extra rep at or things you didn’t do well in practice or just things you (covered) in a meeting that you know you weren’t going to get to do in practice. So you plan it out after practice and try to get after it — try to make sure that you’re ready to go and ready to understand things by the next meeting and the next opportunity.”
The Etling pick came as a surprise to those who expected the Patriots to select Brady’s potential successor early in the 2018 NFL Draft, and it’s too early to project whether he will have a spot on the roster this season.
We won’t know until the preseason begins whether Etling’s revamped mechanics will hold up against a live pass rush, for example, or whether he’ll be able to fully grasp Josh McDaniels’ complex playbook. He’s looked better than expected thus far, though — occasional miscues aside — and seems more than willing to put in the work necessary to improve.
“When you’re trying to learn a new offense and trying to understand footwork and understand concepts and understand formations and just understand what we’re trying to do,” Etling said, “there’s just so much that goes into it that you just have to shut up and listen and learn as much as you can.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images