Meet Garrett Gilbert, Who Could Be Patriots’ Backup QB Vs. Lions

This is Gilbert's third stint in New England


Oct 6, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — Mac Jones has participated, in a limited capacity, in both New England Patriots practices this week. But there’s a real change his high ankle sprain will sideline him for another game.

If that happens, fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe would make the first start of his young NFL career Sunday against the Detroit Lions, having officially moved up to QB2 after Brian Hoyer was placed on injured reserve Thursday.

Who would back up Zappe in that scenario? Say hello to Garrett Gilbert, who’s both a new and a familiar member of New England’s quarterback room.

A 31-year-old journeyman whose circuitous football career makes Hoyer’s look stable, Gilbert has played for nine professional teams since being drafted in the sixth round out of SMU in 2014 — eight different NFL franchises, plus the Orlando Apollos of the blink-and-you-missed-it Alliance of American Football. He’s lived his NFL life on the roster fringes, averaging less than one appearance per season (eight in nine years) and logging just two career starts.

Gilbert knows the Patriots well, though. He was on their practice squad during their 2014 playoff run, backing up Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo as New England won Super Bowl XLIX. Seven years later, he returned to Foxboro in the same capacity, spending most of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad as a depth piece behind Jones, Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham.

On Wednesday, with their top two QBs ailing, the Patriots brought back Gilbert for a third P-squad stint, granting the veteran his first NFL opportunity since he was cut by Josh McDaniels’ Raiders in May.

“Obviously, I’d been staying ready, hoping for an opportunity,” Gilbert said after Thursday’s practice. “Certainly, you never want to see guys get injured, but obviously all I can do is stay ready. I was able to make this work and come up here and sign, and it’s good to be back.”

The Patriots have tweaked their offense since losing McDaniels, their longtime coordinator, to Las Vegas, but Gilbert said he still feels “very” comfortable in the system he operated for the first three months of last season.

“Obviously, some things have changed since last year, but ultimately, it’s not tough,” he said. “I’ve got to get back used to the scheme and used to some of the new things, but it’s nice to be on the field and in the huddle with guys that I know, and there’s still a lot of familiar faces here, so that’s been really nice.”

Gilbert left the Patriots last December because the Washington Football Team, in dire straits after two of their QBs tested positive for COVID-19, signed him to make a short-notice start against the Philadelphia Eagles. (He said he had “a lot of fun” in that game, a 27-17 loss, even though the circumstances were “obviously … not ideal.”) McDaniels signed him after the season to compete for a backup job behind Derek Carr but released him two months later after the Raiders swung a trade for Stidham.

That release kicked off a six-month layoff for Gilbert, who churned through Peleton workouts and searched far and wide for pass-catchers to stay ready for his next NFL call. This week, it finally came.

“(I was) just trying to stay in shape the best I can,” Gilbert said. “It’s obviously not necessarily easy to find guys to throw with when everyone’s playing right now, but (I did) the best I could to just find guys here and there, try and work out as much as I can and just stay ready.

“Obviously, I’m not necessarily young as a football player anymore, so you never know when your last one’s going to come. And having been away for a few months, it’s a blessing to be back in here and really just get back and be a part of the team.”

Gilbert knows Jones and Hoyer well from their months together last season, and he said he’s been “very impressed” with Zappe during the early days of his latest Patriots tenure.

“I’ve gotten to spend a good amount of time with him just in extra meetings and that sort of stuff,” Gilbert said. “I think he, obviously being a young guy thrust into this position, I think he’s done a great job with it the first couple days. He’s got good command of the offense, and I think the other thing is he’s been very willing to ask questions and learn and that sort of thing. I think he’s done a really nice job of that as we continue to prepare for Sunday.”

Though the Patriots’ QB picture remains cloudy as the weekend approaches, Gilbert is preparing as if he will be the Patriots’ primary backup — which, as Zappe found out last Sunday, would put him one injury away from game action.

“As a backup quarterback, it’s my job to just get myself prepared to play,” said Gilbert, who has never dressed for a game with the Patriots, regular season or otherwise. “So that’s been my main focus since I’ve been back here, getting myself refamiliarized with the offense and just what we do schematically. That’s part of my job, so that’s been my only focus since I’ve been back here — just getting myself comfortable and getting myself ready for Sunday.”

Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images
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