Is Patriots Rookie Bailey Zappe Ready To Back Up Brian Hoyer?

'That'd be a pretty big assumption for me to make'


September 27

Although his last NFL start left much to be desired, Brian Hoyer is a perfectly serviceable NFL backup quarterback. Patriots fans should be confident that he can do at least a passable job in relief of Mac Jones, who reportedly will miss multiple games after suffering a severe high ankle sprain last Sunday.

But what about Hoyer’s backup? Should Hoyer get hurt and/or be a complete disaster on the field, can New England trust Bailey Zappe, a rookie fourth-rounder, to come in and get the job done?

First of all, those are unfair expectations to place on any rookie quarterback, especially a mid-round pick who played at Western Kentucky.

“That’d be a pretty big assumption for me to make for a guy who’s coming into this league and really learning,” Patriots quarterbacks coach Joe Judge said Tuesday when asked whether Zappe is ready to be a top backup. “He’s developing and making a lot of improvement. And you don’t really ever know that until he gets in the game.”

That said, Zappe wasn’t good during the summer. He was erratic and mistake-prone throughout OTAs and training camp practices and threw an interception in each of his three preseason appearances. Unless Zappe’s made significant strides in practice over the last few months, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots entering a gameday with him and Hoyer as their only active quarterbacks (Zappe was a healthy scratch the first three weeks). Perhaps New England will turn toward the free agent market for some emergency depth.

Still, Judge likes the progress he’s seen from Zappe since he arrived in New England.

“Very pleased with how Bailey’s working,” Judge said. ” … He’s done a really good job, mentally and physically, of progressing from the spring when we got him. He’s very, very engaged. He’s done a great job on the sideline with us now, whether it’s the home or the away games, just sitting there and being engaged in the play, and then communicating throughout the game with things he’s seeing. Or, if a problem were to arise, how he’d go about fixing it. So, that’s all he can really do at this point: practice and get better. He’s done everything we’re asking of him right now. So, in terms of when he gets in the game, you know, we’ll see. I’m not gonna speak for anybody else, but I like the way he’s worked and preparing, and the progress he’s making.”

Zappe was considered one of the smartest quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. After putting up record-setting numbers in college, Zappe earned the highest Wonderlic test score of all draft-eligible quarterbacks and earned rave reviews for his intangibles. In late August, Judge cited Zappe’s aversion to repeating errors as one of his strongest qualities.

He offered similar comments Tuesday morning.

“I think it shows up with a quarterback in all different areas,” Judge said of Zappe’s ability to learn from mistakes. “Whether it’s how he’s reading a coverage, maybe how he’s identifying a protection and correcting a mistake. … So, there’s always a variance that you’re gonna see from defenses. And you gotta see the big picture. One thing Mac does a tremendous job of is he gets on the field and he can fix a lot of problems. You see Mac get out there a lot of times and talking at the line of scrimmage. A lot of times he’s out there, things happen that we call ‘unscripted looks’ or ‘unscouted looks.’ And they come up and you have to understand the concept of the play.

“One thing Bailey’s done a good job of is he’s starting to understand the bigger picture of, it’s not just what’s drawn in the playbook but it’s the concept of the play. How many blockers do we have? What are our issues? Who do we have to involve? Who’s communicating in terms of how things have changed? So, he’s made some progress in that. Now, look, he’s gonna keep on progressing, like all rookies will if they keep working hard every day, And by the end of the year, he should be a large amount further ahead than he is right now. But we’re pleased with the way he’s worked so far.”

Ultimately, if Zappe ends up in a game this season, the Patriots will have far greater problems on their plate than whether a fourth-round rookie is ready for primetime. There probably isn’t a long history of NFL teams winning games with third-string QBs under center.

But, unless New England adds a free agent, Zappe now is a Hoyer injury away from throwing regular-season passes in a Patriots uniform. That’s a scary thought, regardless of any improvements Zappe’s made behind the scenes.

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