New year, new outlook for Mallett

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ryan Mallett got right to the point.

"I was lost sometimes last year," he said Friday at Patriots training camp.

Turns out it was a lot to ask of a rookie quarterback to come into the team’s complex system, without the benefit of an offseason due to the lockout, and keep up with Tom Brady and top backup Brian Hoyer.

This year feels different for him. Much different.

"I wasn’t here from Day 1 of the [spring] camps [last year], and it’s hard to catch up once you get behind," Mallett said. "[This year], I tried not to let myself get behind and started that in the spring. Now it’s keep going, one foot after another."

The approach has caught the eye of Bill Belichick, who told SiriusXM NFL Radio last week that he’s seen "great strides" from Mallett in terms of his knowledge of the offense, and making the right reads and finding the right matchups. Belichick added that both Mallett and Brian Hoyer, who has held down the No. 2 job the last three seasons, have had good offseasons/preseasons.

That thought was echoed by Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio on Friday.

"I think it’s been a pretty good competition," Caserio said of the backups. "When we get into the preseason, they’ll have plenty of opportunity and we’ll see how they perform when we get into game situations."

The preseason is the season for many backup quarterbacks because it’s potentially the only time they have extended action to react to all the various situations that come up over the course of a game. That's what coaches really need to see to have a better barometer of their progress.

If Hoyer performs big in the preseason, he could set himself up for a big payday as an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season.

Meanwhile, Mallett, who slipped to the third round of the 2011 draft despite being touted as a first-round talent, is signed through 2014. With a successful preseason, he could become an attractive target for a team looking for a young quarterback to build around.

On paper, the Patriots look like they have one of the best backup quarterback situations in the NFL.

Of the two, Mallett has the bigger name, and thus there figures to be more intrigue surrounding his performance. He said he feels stronger and quicker this year, in part because of a sharper focus on workouts and nutrition (no more fried food). Having gone through a full NFL season, and experiencing how long it is, spearheaded his decision to focus on those areas.

Now it’s time to see how it unfolds on the field.