Peace of mind defines Belichick's backup plan

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has a rather simple philosophy for backup quarterbacks.

As he did last year, even before Tom Brady's left knee looked like shredded wheat, Belichick asked himself a question when filling out the New England Patriots' 53-man roster.

"Are you comfortable with them?" Belichick said in a training camp interview with ESPN.com. "If you feel like you can [win] with him, then you probably feel comfortable with him. If you don't feel that way, then that means you're probably looking for somebody else."

In the span of one calendar year, Belichick has gone from content with his backup quarterbacks to thoroughly unsatisfied with some of the same names.

Belichick's comfort level with Matt Cassel allowed the Patriots to experience an incredible season despite Brady's absence. But none of the quarterbacks on New England's active roster from Week 2 last season is with the club anymore.

Cassel (traded in April for financial reasons), Kevin O'Connell (waived Sunday) and Matt Gutierrez (released a month ago) are gone.

"When you put them in the game, you want the ability to win with them," Belichick said in an interview with ESPN.com shortly after signing free agent Andrew Walter, but with O'Connell still on the roster.

The O'Connell move caught the football community off guard. But he apparently didn't fit either of two basic roles Belichick sees for backup quarterbacks. There are projects and there are stabilizers.

"If you're trying to get your backup guy to eventually be your starter or be able to go in and win for you, and you draft a young player like Cassel, you know he's not ready that first year," Belichick said. "But you hope in time you can get him ready.

"That's the problem with a young quarterback. It takes a little bit of time to develop them. The problem with the old quarterback is it's a year-to-year proposition.

"It's a combination of how far you really think you'll be able to go with that player and if you feel he's keeping it warm until you had your starter back -- but then you're looking for someone else."

The only other quarterbacks behind Brady are Walter and undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, who has looked sharp in preseason games and perhaps supplanted O'Connell as a less expensive project of choice. Seventh-round draft choice Julian Edelman played quarterback at Kent State but has been moved to receiver.

Belichick has done well with backup quarterbacks in the past. When the Patriots have been forced to use a second-stringer, he has been successful. Brady got his break as a medical replacement for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

When Belichick stood behind a lectern at Gillette Stadium one year ago and suggested that a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school could step in for a future Hall of Famer and take New England to the playoffs, it was tough not to laugh.

Or at least it sounded comical at the time. Cassel, emerging from an unpleasant preseason that led to speculation he might not make the final roster, replaced Brady and won 11 games.

The Patriots didn't reach the postseason. The Miami Dolphins also went 11-5 and won the AFC East title on a tiebreaker.

Yet it was an admirable failure given the circumstances.

Belichick has employed different types of backup quarterbacks who never saw significant action. The Patriots kept veterans such as Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie and used youngsters such as Rohan Davey and O'Connell.

"It's an insurance policy," Belichick said. "People have different philosophies on insurance.

"You can spend a lot and have a real high-quality backup quarterback who's one play away from being your starting quarterback. Or you could have more modest expense there and use that extra money to solidify other positions."

But Belichick claimed he never felt apprehensive sending one of his second-string quarterbacks onto the field when he needed to.

"I don't think there was any set formula," Belichick said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it, but in the end that's what you're looking for: a guy you can win with."