It's that time of year again: the season before the season is set to begin.
The Patriots will kick off their 2012 campaign on Thursday night with their preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. While the final scores of these late-summer tilts are ultimately meaningless, preseason games are intriguing in that they give lesser-known players a chance to prove their worth.
This is especially true at the quarterback position, where backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett will have just four preseason contests to garner actual game experience before yielding to Tom Brady for the duration of the regular season.
That means the pressure is on for a player like Hoyer, who says that the most important stretch of his season is in these next four weeks.
"This is like the regular season for me," noted Hoyer after Sunday's practice. "You never know how things are going to go, so when you get to the regular season…you prepare like you're the starter but you may never get in the game for the whole year."
"But the preseason games, you know you're going to get in there, so when you [do], you want to show what you can do and take advantage of every rep you can get, because you never know. Once that last preseason game's over with, you never know when you're playing again."
Wondering when his next snap will be is certainly not an issue for Brady. These next four games are more of a tune-up for number 12, who will take just a handful of snaps on Thursday night before letting Hoyer and Mallett take the reins.
Brady will be watching most of Thursday's action from the sidelines, but that doesn't mean he'll be taking the time leisurely. Brady is adamant about staying in the game even when he isn't, which includes staying involved in the play-calling process and being a mentor for Hoyer and Mallett.
"[At the] end of the game I'm watching, I'm listening for the calls, I'm seeing what I would do if I was out there," says Brady. "[I'm] going through the mental reps and encouraging the guys and making sure we're all on the same page and communicating."
"You certainly don't take that preparation off. We're playing a different team, and they have a different scheme, and you never know when your number's going to be called. So you're trying to encourage those other guys but also really stay into the game."