With the focus on newly-drafted quarterback Mac Jones and his eventual ascent to New England Patriots starter, I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what Bill Belichick was saying the last time he installed a young quarterback as starter. That was September of 2001.
On Thursday, we revisited what Belichick was saying at the start of the 2001 season when he announced Brady had jumped veteran Damon Huard to become Drew Bledsoe’s backup. That was an eyebrow-raiser to people who thought Huard was locked into his spot based on the contract he’d been given. It was not surprising to people who saw Brady as the team’s best quarterback that summer.
Three weeks later, push came to shove. After Bledsoe got blown up on the sidelines by Mo Lewis in a 10-3 loss to the New York Jets, Belichick was back in front of the media the day after the game. A lot of the press conference was related to Bledsoe’s condition. But there was plenty of “are you really going to go with Brady???” questions flying around the room that day. These are the Brady-centric questions.
How does this relate to Jones? Well -- and people don’t want to hear this -- first he has to beat out Jarrett Stidham. Same way Brady beat out Huard.
One interesting thing you’ll see -- in addition to Belichick noting Brady didn’t have an arm like John Elway’s -- is the coach explaining that practices were easier because the quarterbacking styles of Bledsoe, Huard and Brady were the same. The prior year, the elusive and cannon-armed Michael Bishop was among the team’s four quarterbacks. Belichick explains that it took a little bit away toggling back and forth. The same situation will logically exist with Cam Newton and Jones/Stidham.
Q: If you have to begin your preparation for the Colts right now, you obviously can not prepare with Drew playing, who is your quarterback?
BB: Tom Brady.
Q: Where does he fall in the parameters for arm strength to be a successful NFL quarterback?
BB: I think his arm is good.
Q: Obviously he doesn't have a cannon and a lot of guys who do have cannons couldn't hit the side of a barn, but…
BB: I don't think we are talking about John Elway here, but I don't know how many of those there are. I think he has got an NFL arm, he has got a good NFL arm.
Q: How does this change now going from a very experienced quarterback to a young inexperienced quarterback in terms of changing dynamics and how you start preparing for your opponents?
BB: One thing we have tried to do through the year is to, whether it be in preseason games or in practice, we really haven't called plays with regard to what quarterback is in there. In other words when we started training camp everybody would just take their rotations and whatever plays came up, came up. In preseason games we did the same thing.
Whichever quarterback was in there they ran the plays that were called, in contrast to the Michael Bishop situation last year where we had a shorter list of plays and said, 'Okay when Michael is in there these are the plays that we want to get called with him in there at quarterback.' Or conversely we might say, 'These are some things with Michael that we want to stay away from, these are more things for John [Friesz] and Drew.'
This year it has been consistent for us to run whatever plays we run in practice, whoever is in there at quarterback is in there at quarterback. There are no specific plays designed for any one guy. That being said I think that Tom and Damon [Huard] have both had an opportunity to execute the offense, not as many reps, but the same plays that Drew has had. I think that all three quarterbacks are similar in their style of play. I am not saying that they are the same, but I think they are similar in their style of play, their mechanics, their overall athleticism, their arm strength.
They are not the same in experience, but they are the same in a lot of things that they do physically and mentally. I think they are all real sharp and that they all seem to be able to handle the same types of things whether they are check-with-me's or audibles or recognition of coverages or that kind of thing. They all seem to have a good awareness and a similar awareness. So I feel that it probably won't be quite as expanded as it would normally be with Drew, but I think that Tom and Damon both could certainly run the offense and do the things that we have been doing and so that the other guys can get better at them.
Q: The team doesn't know anything different than Drew in at quarterback, what is your biggest challenge because of that?
BB: I think our best preparation has been this year. That all three of those quarterbacks have taken a good number of reps with the team. Damon and Tom I would say had pretty close to equal reps at quarterback. Then after the Washington game Tom has gotten a few more reps than Damon has in practice, but when you add them all up over the seven, eight, nine week period, whatever it is, I think that those numbers will come out pretty close.
Again, I can't speak for the team, but my sense of it is that the team is confident with any quarterback in the game. I think that in preseason Damon has had a couple of good drives and Tom whether it would be in the first half of the Carolina game or the second half of the Washington game, he has had success on the field in this offense with this team.
So I think people feel confident in Tom as I do and the coaching staff did when we made the decision before the season, but also in Damon for what he has done in regular season games and also how he has performed when he has had an opportunity. So that is what we will go with and I feel confident that Tom will do well, but if Damon has to play I am confident that he will do well too.
Q: If in the next couple of weeks Drew is still iffy and the team wasn't in contention would that effect your willingness to use him?
BB: I really can't make any kind comment on that whatsoever because I don't know what we are talking about. These are all just hypothetical questions. I will just go with what we are dealing with now. We will talk about those things if and when they materialize at a later point in time.
Q: Tom isn't exactly an established NFL quarterback as of yet, so how much quicker would you be to make the change with him?
BB: I can't put any timeframe or parameters on that. Tom will play and we expect him to play well.
Q: Is his leadership a reason why expect him to succeed?
BB: Yes. I really don't think that I am going to be standing here week after week talking about all of the problems that Tom Brady had. I have confidence in him, I think the team has confidence in him and I think that he will prepare himself well and he will go out there and perform at a good level.
I am sure that like every other young player there will always be something in the game that you would like to do differently. People say that about every player young or old. It is always going to be that way. Everybody will make a mistake in the game, but I think overall that he will perform within the framework of the offense that we have designed for him and he will make plays that he is capable of making. That is what my expectations are and I think Tom will work hard to respond to that opportunity.
Nobody ever likes to see a teammate go down especially a warrior like Drew, just to go back in the game in that situation and the condition that he did shows the kind of toughness and grit that he has and what he is respected for, but at the same time every player likes to play, every player wants to take advantage, of an opportunity and I know that Tom has prepared hard and that is what a backup quarterback's job is. To be ready when the opportunity arises. It was a tough situation that he was thrust into last night, but overall I thought he responded to it pretty well I just wish we could have made one more play.
Q: Does your comfort level increase with Tom Brady because you know that he played several games in front of over 100,000 people?
BB: I think that I have more confidence from what he has done here. I recognize what he did in college and college is great and he did some outstanding things, there is no question about it. He really beat out Drew Henson his senior year and all of that, but college is college. There are a lot of guys who do great in college that don't do anything in this league and there are a lot of guys that aren't that great in college that do well in this league.
What I put more stock in is what Tom has done when he has been with this team, when he has been in games, when he has had opportunities in practice and that type of thing. I think that that is really where he has gained, not that I don't have respect and confidence in him from Michigan, but I have gained a lot more from what he has done here in our situation against this competition as opposed to in college.
There’s a lot to chew on there both historically with the way things ultimately worked out and fast-forwarding to now because -- even 20 years later -- the decision-making process will likely be very similar with Mac Jones.