FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the topic is New England Patriots quarterbacks, there are essentially three hot-button questions.
Can Tom Brady play at a high level into his 40s, as he desires? Is strong-armed backup Ryan Mallett potential trade bait for a club looking for a No. 1 option? And, assuming he makes the club, which looks to be the case at this time, what might Tim Tebow provide in his role as a third-stringer?
Doug Flutie offers a unique perspective on two of those topics -- Brady and Tebow -- because he experienced firsthand what makes Brady tick after spending 2005 as one of his backups, and also because his time with the franchise has some similarities to what Tebow's could be this season.
Let's start with Tebow.
Similar to when the Patriots surprised many with their signing of Flutie in 2005, one of the appeals for coach Bill Belichick in bringing Tebow aboard this year is the makeup of the player for the projected role. In '05, Belichick knew what he was getting in Flutie, whose passion for the game was well-documented. Ditto for Tebow this year.
"I see a little bit of that," Flutie said of a link to his '05 role in New England and Tebow's this year. "There is definitely an aspect to the guy who isn't on the field very much; if he's just going to be the No. 3 quarterback and run the scout team, you want a guy who is going to be giving his heart and soul in every practice and running scout team to the fullest, hoping he can get better and doing everything he can.
"It's like the guy in the NBA sitting toward the end of the bench. You don't need a guy who thinks he should be playing every minute of every game bitching and complaining in the background. So from that standpoint, you have a character guy that is going to stay out of trouble, not cause you headaches, and help you out during the work week. And when the situation calls for it on game day, you can depend on him."
In 2005, Flutie was behind Brady and then-rookie Matt Cassel on the depth chart. His veteran presence created another layer of insurance, especially given Cassel's inexperience.
That is a different dynamic than Tebow's this year, as No. 2 man Mallett enters his third NFL season and is less of a question mark than Cassel was in 2005. Because of that, some have wondered if Belichick had a different type of role in mind for Tebow, although don't count Flutie among that group.
"His role, and I said this from day one, I don't see Bill bringing him in and making him a tight end or a fullback. I don't see a third-down situation where it's short yardage, goal line and you're bringing Tebow in and putting Tom Brady on the bench for a play or two. You want Tom on the field in those situations," he said.
"So I think legitimately, Bill brought him in as a quarterback, a No. 3 guy, that if they get down to their No. 3 they can be competitive with Tebow on the field, running a specific style of offense that is going to cater to his skills. A lot of teams can't say that if they are down to their No. 3. I see that as a developmental thing for Tebow."
To this point in training camp, that's exactly how it's unfolded. Tebow has said he's solely spent time in the quarterback room, although he also has worked as a personal protector on the punt team, which could simply be a just-in-case type of situation if he ultimately is active on the 46-man game-day roster.
Flutie, who like Tebow was a lightning rod of sorts during his playing days, is pulling for Tebow.
"I hope that he has a significant role, that something happens for him to be a part of it," Flutie said. "There are not enough quality guys that just bust their tail and do whatever the team is asking of them. I like to see good guys come out on top."
As for Brady, the unquestioned quarterback on the top of the Patriots' depth chart, Flutie has little doubt that he can achieve his stated goal of playing at least another five years, if not more.
"As great as he is and with his arm, he can play as long as he wants, into his 40s," Flutie said. "With the money he's made over the years, and the money his wife makes, and his legacy already, there is really no need to. I thought maybe he's one of those guys that pulls the trigger a little early and says, 'I've had enough.' But he said he wants to play until he's 40, he still has that great desire, and that's what makes him Tom.
"My story with Tom is that we played golf one day, and he had been working on a new golf swing. He was out there shooting even par for 16 holes, hitting the ball like a pro, playing great. And on 17 and 18, he lost it, mishit a few balls, double-bogeyed a hole, whatever. On the 18th green, he's on his phone texting his swing coach. He gets his golf instructor to come down, and he goes from the 18th green to the practice tee, meets his buddy there, and starts working on his swing again.
"That's Tom. In every aspect, that's Tom. On the field. Practice. Friday practice. Saturday practice. If he didn't like something during practice, he's working on it right after."
Flutie was making the media rounds this week as part of the launch of EA Sports' "NCAA Football 14," in which he's included in the game's "Ultimate Team" mode, which allows fans to play with more than 1,400 former college football greats.
"I'm 50 years old and the kids can play a video game with me running around the field, throwing a football; that's kind of cool from my standpoint," said Flutie, who is living in Florida full time and will again serve as a studio analyst for NBC's college football coverage this season.
Flutie, who has maintained his youthful spirit, still plays video games from time to time and said of "NCAA Football 14," "The offenses are very authentic, whether it's a one-back or a pro set, spread offenses, zone-read option, you name it. It's very accurate, very realistic, to the individual schools and the offenses they run."
At times, the Patriots' offense has put up video game-type numbers, such as 2007, although Flutie is aware of some of the questions surrounding the unit this year. Unlike some others, he has confidence that things will come together.
"I don't know who they have at receiver, who they are filling in and where, I'm not that close to it. That's going to be the variable," he said. "But I think that Tom pulls it all together anyway. As long as you have quality people surrounding him, I'm not worried about that offense."