RICHMOND, Va. – It is an annual rite of passage in New England Patriots preseason: The day before the first game, the media spotlight shines a bit brighter on the backup quarterbacks.
In recent years, it traces back to Rohan Davey (2003-2004), Doug Flutie (2005), Matt Cassel (2005-2008), Kevin O’Connell (2008-2009), Brian Hoyer (2009-2011) and now Ryan Mallett (2011-2014) and Jimmy Garoppolo (2014).
So this was the scene following Wednesday’s light walk-through practice with the Washington Redskins: Mallett had a crowd around him asking about the only chance he gets for extended repetitions, while a few yards away Garoppolo was talking about his adjustment to the NFL.
Mallett should receive the majority of repetitions in Thursday’s preseason opener, and it’s his primary showcase to prove to 31 other teams what he’always has believed -- that he’s a starting-caliber quarterback.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to be able to play a lot,” said Mallett, who has totaled just four pass attempts in the regular season over the last three years, coming in at the end of four games. “I haven’t really gotten too many chances during the regular season because I have a pretty good guy in front of me. Any time I get to play, I look forward to it.”
Unlike others from his draft class, who have already emerged, Mallett hasn’t allowed himself to ask “what if?” when it comes to his own career.
“I live day to day, man. I’m happy where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’m having a blast. I’m on a great team, I have a great organization around me. My teammates are awesome. That doesn’t cross my mind. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team every day.
“You can’t control what you can’t control. It’s the uncontrollable. You have to deal with it … I was dealt the hand I was dealt, so I’m playing cards.”
Mallett’s story is well documented. In 2011, he had first-round physical skills but slipped to the third round, in part because of some off-field questions. Three full seasons later, he has been well schooled in the Patriots’ system and enters the final year of his contract.
Could a franchise really build around him in 2015?
That’s what Mallett hopes to prove starting Thursday night, as his performance in 2011, 2012 and 2013 preseason action wasn’t decisive like it was when then-Atlanta backup Matt Schaub lit things up in 2005, which later led Houston to trade significant assets for him and hand him a starting job.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Mallett certainly looks the part on the practice field, with a live arm that brings back memories of Drew Bledsoe. He said Wednesday that the game has slowed down for him, and he spent time this offseason working out in Minnesota with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald , among others.
Now it’s time to prove it in a game, which is when backup quarterbacks truly need to pop.