I haven’t been this excited since I found out that Mini Me might have made a sex tape.
At 9:30 AM tomorrow, the New England Patriots will take the field for their first practice of the season. I know that this first week of practices won’t be overly telling, but that isn’t important. What’s important is that the team facilities are open, the players are there, and it’s time to get to work.
There are always a ton of storylines in training camps across the National Football League: positional battles, last-minute free agent signings, contract holdouts, a dizzying array of absurd rookie haircuts, and the inevitable fist fights that break out in order to “show that competitive spirit.” At Foxboro, we’ll all be keeping a close eye on the linebacking corps, sweating out news of preseason injuries that may have come from lack of team-organized offseason workouts, and figuring out whether the Patriots have that deep threat they lost in the Randy Moss trade.
As for me, I’m going to be watching Ryan Mallett.
How Ryan Mallett develops will be one of the most interesting parts of my Patriots preseason experience. The Pats got mixed reviews for taking Mallett, viewed as one of the best QBs of the draft, with the 74th overall pick. I personally think it was a great pick and an absolute 3rd round steal. By investing in Mallett, Belichick has taken on a project that, as Brady’s career winds down in a few years (at which point I imagine the pictures of him dancing at parades and squealing down waterslides will blissfully cease), should help the Patriots remain competitive for the next decade. What is going to make or break Mallett’s career, in my opinion, is how he settles into his role away from college stardom and embraces his new position as a backup quarterback.
More after the jump.
Both Mallett’s physical attributes and NCAA statistics are impressive. Standing at a Herman Munster-esque 6’7” and weighing 253 pounds, Big Tex started 13 games for Arkansas last season, setting school records with 3,869 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. In 2009 he also started all 13 games, throwing for 3,624 yards, 30 touchdowns, and earning second-team all-SEC selection. His skill and talent at the college level is indisputable.
However, if being big with solid college stats translated into a successful NFL career, new parents in Oakland wouldn’t be using their Jamarcus Russell jerseys as emergency diapers right now. Mallett will basically be starting from scratch, and without the benefit of a long off-season to start learning the playbook. He is also coming into this season knowing that he will be holding a clipboard and preparing himself to fill some absolutely massive shoes when his time comes. As someone who was thought to have maturity issues, I’m sure there is going to be a bit of an adjustment period. While I’m confident that Mallett will take his new responsibility in stride, I’m definitely going to be monitoring it closely.
We could see Mallett taking some legitimate reps with the first team as early as next week, and I can’t wait to see how he looks. As a projected 1st round pick, Mallett is likely to draw a little more criticism than your average rookie just learning the ropes; I’m sure he’ll overthrow a few receivers, cause some miscues, and try to force a few passes into coverage, all of which will earn him some negative press. But there will also be some nice reads, a strong pocket presence, and a few spectacular bombs downfield to Tate or Price. Ultimately, though, his actual performance on the field this preseason isn’t what I’ll be paying the most attention to. What I’m more concerned with is the way he conducts himself, whether he embraces the Patriot Way, and whether he understands that, by learning under Brady and Belichick, he is making a very positive long term investment in his future.
Sure, he’s a bit of a raw talent. He needs to work on his accuracy and become more consistent in the pocket. His balls tend to sail high (heh) and he’s not overly mobile. He also apparently has “character issues.” But the last time I checked, number 12 was still under center and the Pats have the best coaching staff in the game. What better place in the entire NFL is there for a young quarterback? Yes, Ryan Mallett is going to have to watch the other 6 quarterbacks drafted before him from the sidelines for the next few seasons (sound familiar, anyone? Hmm?). But the bottom line is that Mallett is in the perfect place to become an NFL star in a few years, and I’m very excited to see what kind of attitude and ability he brings into training camp.
I also heard that he was arrested in 2009 for public intoxication. This, more than anything else, has me completely convinced that he is going to feel right at home here in New England.