Trying to read the mind of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick isn't a recommended activity. I'm not going to get into the full explanation, but trust me, you won't get very far. Belichick is known to keep his thoughts and his opinions closely guarded, making it difficult to know what's really on his mind.
Belichick also isn't known to heap praise upon his players, particularly those who don't deserve it. He could love a player or hate him, and you wouldn't know the difference. Occasionally, though, you'll hear a definitive statement. One Patriot who has received such acknowledgement from Belichick throughout training camp is third-year quarterback Rohan Davey. He's noticed Davey is a more comfortable player in his third camp, and he isn't hesitant to point it out. It's enough to make one wonder.
"He is doing things this year that he just didn't do last year," Belichick said. "He is much, not only more comfortable, but he recognizes things at a quicker rate and has made better decisions, hasn't gotten fooled as much, and when things have been cloudy I think he has made better decisions overall than he has in the last couple of years. To me, it is one of those things that has really jumped out in this camp. The coaches notice it, the defensive players notice it and I think that it is something that has stood out to pretty much everybody who has watched him, that where he is now relative to last year is a significantly higher point."
If Davey's improvement this year is as obvious as it sounds, then it isn't exactly newsworthy for the coach to point out something that everyone can see for himself or herself. If Davey has indeed improved, it's also likely that the coaching staff would notice these improvements – perhaps in terms of his footwork, technique, decision-making or understanding of the system – much more quickly and easily than those of us watching from afar. It seems these improvements are so apparent that it hasn't even required a preseason game to detect them.
There's nothing wrong with pointing out the facts. You're happy, I'm happy and we're all happy for Davey. Plus, I tend to leave the technical football analysis to those who know much more about football than myself, and leave any second-guessing at the door. But it's also true that the Patriots need Davey to take command of the backup duties behind starter Tom Brady. One of the biggest questions hovering over the defending Super Bowl champions is who would step in at quarterback if Tom Brady was out, and how effective would the replacement be? This would be one situation where lip service towards a younger player – especially one in the spotlight – is a textbook way to boost his confidence.
"No, I really didn't know what he said," Davey admitted. "But a compliment from coach Belichick? I'll take it."
To that end, the team is relying heavily on Davey. And from what we're hearing and seeing, so far that reliance seems to be well founded. Davey had an outstanding season in NFL Europe, completing 126-of-206 passes for 1,676 yards and a league-high 19 touchdowns. He started all 10 of his team's games, was named the league's offensive player of the year, and finished with a league-best 105.9 quarterback rating en route to a World Bowl XII victory for his Berlin Thunder. He has looked good in camp, and appears to have used that experience as momentum.
What isn't heard as often is the inexperience behind Brady. Not to be a hater, but Davey has thrown exactly nine NFL passes, and that's not reassuring. Third quarterback Kliff Kingsbury spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. Veteran Jim Miller, who could provide a ton of experience at the position, is still in recovery mode after offseason shoulder surgery and is really a question mark.
"At the end of the game, at the end of the year, they wan to know who makes plays and puts the team in the best situation to win football games," Davey said. "Who executes their offense. Who went out there and commanded the team. That's what it's all about. That's what's been preached to us … and that's what I'm ready to do."
Davey is right. And that means we won't know anything until we see all of this play out in live action. We all know that players are judged for what they do on the field. Maybe it's the unknown that is the scary part.
"I think they are significantly ahead of where they were last year and a big test for them will be what they do in these preseason games when they come under fire in game conditions, when we take the red jerseys off and they are live bait like everybody else is, and the game situations move less predictably than in practice and more frequently," Belichick said when asked about Davey and Kingsbury. "So, we will see how that plays out. But I think that their preparation and their overall approach to the camp has been good. Hopefully that will translate onto the field when they get an opportunity to do it."
So there you have it. If you've read this far and you're waiting for my opinion on this, well, I don't really have one. Which I know is great when reading a column. I'm simply just thinking out loud on this one. My only take is that, at this point, we know next to nothing. And that's really the way it's going to be until we see this play out in live game action. You can think that a great season in NFL Europe means you're ready for the NFL. Copyright Brad Johnson, it has been done before. You can also think that having two backup quarterbacks with no NFL experience is not a good sign for the defending champions. That's valid too. Somewhere in between the two might be where Belichick and his praise for Davey are coming from.
It's all guesswork if you ask me.
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