This time it's intentional.
O'Connell moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 last year when Tom Brady was injured in the season opener and Matt Cassel was promoted to starter. Cassel was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason, and now O'Connell will be the one who steps in if Brady is hurt.
"Last year was an unfortunate situation, but I was able to get a lot of repetitions that I wouldn't have gotten as a third quarterback," O'Connell said Wednesday after the team wrapped up a voluntary, three-day minicamp. "No matter how far back I am on the depth chart, I just have to be ready. Matt was a good example of that."
Cassel stepped in when Brady was hurt in the first half of the first game and led New England to an 11-5 record. The Patriots missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
O'Connell played in two games last season while backing up Cassel, completing 4 of 6 passes for 23 yards. When Cassel was traded to the Chiefs along with linebacker Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick, it was a sign to Patriots fans that Brady was expected to be fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him virtually the entire season.
And when the Patriots decided not to bring in an experienced backup, it was a sign that they trusted O'Connell to do the job.
O'Connell said he hopes he can learn from Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the 2007 NFL MVP, the way Cassel did.
"He's working as hard as everybody else around here," O'Connell said. "He's doing everything he can. I'm just looking forward to working with him the rest of the season."
Brady was spotted with new wife Gisele Bundchen at a charity gala on Tuesday night, but he was not at practice on Wednesday. A Patriots spokesman declined to comment on whether the quarterback had been at the stadium to work out.
"I'm feeling great and just excited to be out there on the field, training with my teammates," Brady said, according to Patriots.com. "It's always fun being back in this competitive environment and working with these guys to try to make 2009 our best season. It's been fun to be back. I think everyone is excited to get back on the field and see what we're capable of."
Brady is ready to get back on the field.
"I think everybody is at this point," he said, according to Patriots.com. "It was a tough year for us being 11-5 and not having the opportunity to advance into the playoffs and make a run there. I think it's been a long off-season for everybody. I can sense the excitement with the team and we've got some great veteran leadership and a lot of youth and energy with our rookies that hopefully we can build into something special."
Most of the 50 or so players on the field were rookies and free agents who needed the time to get used to the Patriots playbook.
"I'm learning the system, so I can compete without hesitation," said free agent running back Fred Taylor, who spent his first 11 years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I don't want to feel like a rookie out there."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.