FOXBORO -- Jarrett Stidham can laugh about it now.
On the road. In Nashville. Deep into his first training camp as a professional. He fumbled his first snap. Others in the quarterback room at One Patriot Place might have a laugh remembering that one, too.
Stidham has come a long way since then. After impressing with his arm strength, accuracy and flashes of mobility in preseason action, he hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do in meaningful games. He's attempted four passes this season and completed three. One of those completions? To the wrong team -- a pick-six against the Jets in Week 3.
But teammates and coaches have seen much more of Stidham since August. And the reviews have been positive.
"There have been a few throws," said safety Terrence Brooks, "that we see in practice where we're like, 'Damn, that was a nice one. He's getting better.' That's a good guy that's coming to work every day and proving he belongs here. I'm excited about him, man. Just to see some of the throws that he makes, it's pretty cool to see. Just to see his growth from where he started this summer, it's awesome, man."
Bill Belichick explained earlier this week that Stidham has had an opportunity to fill in for Tom Brady, who has occasionally missed practice time this season as he dealt with injury. Brady was not listed on the injury report this week, but he's recently been dealing with an elbow issue that's required extra attention. More reps for Stidham has meant more work for third-stringer Cody Kessler on the scout team.
"Those guys are always ready to go and it’s an opportunity for them," Belichick said. "You know, it’s hard to practice three quarterbacks, and there have been a couple of examples where Tom hasn’t been able to do a lot this year. So, that’s given Stid an opportunity to go with the first group, and run our plays and run our offense, and that’s been good for him. That’s given Cody an opportunity to run more of the scout-team plays because Jarrett’s not taking those. So, again, quarterbacks are always looking for more work. So, they’ve taken advantage of it and I think it’s helped."
Back in October, midway through Stidham's rookie season, Belichick explained that he liked what he'd seen from Brady's backup.
"Jarrett is a smart kid," Belichick said at the time. "He picks things up very quickly. He has a good grasp of the offense given where he is in his career. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. In practice, he does a good job. He gets a lot of passes on our defense and when he has the opportunity to get the offensive snaps, he’s prepared and does a good job of those."
The Patriots are owners of the league's top defense in several categories, but even they would admit that the fourth-round pick out of Auburn has challenged them on the fields behind Gillette Stadium when he's running the scout team.
"You see a guy who has really tight coverage on somebody, and he finds a place to put it where the DB can't get it," Brooks said. "Those are the type of throws that you classify as 'NFL throws.' Those are the ones that you just can't really do anything about as a defender. If it's in the right place where you just cannot get it where the receiver can, it's a little discouraging at times. But to see his growth, he's done very well, and you can tell he's getting better ...
"I feel like us as a defense is making him better, also. It's pretty cool to see. We like that guy. He's a good guy. Good locker room guy. Teammates love him. He's doing his thing, man."
Stidham wasn't in the conversation to be a Day 1 draft choice back in the spring, but evaluators seemed to agree that he had the kind of ceiling that could one day make him look like an early-round choice.
Fourth-rounders aren't typically projected as future starters, but that's exactly how Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy -- who spent seven years as a scout with the Patriots -- classified the 6-foot-3, 215-pound righty soon after the draft.
"No question," Nagy told The Next Pats Podcast. "No question ... Jarrett's got starter ability. No doubt in my mind. If they develop him right. Again, quarterback play is all about opportunity and situation. I think he's in a good spot to really maximize that. I think Jarrett could definitely be a starter in the NFL."
Stidham talk starts at about 12:30 mark:
Nagy raved about Stidham's ability to throw "a pretty ball," which he explained actually carries with it some importance. It's about more than simply how the football looks flying through the air before it's caught.
"It's just natural. He's just a natural thrower," Nagy said. "Some of these guys have to get drilled and go to camps. I've made the comment a couple of times over the years down here in Alabama about him, 'Jarrett came out of the womb throwing a football.' It's so natural to him. It doesn't matter if his feet aren't right, if he's off-balance, if he's gotta adjust his arm angle. The ball just comes off his hand so clean. That's why it's so important.
"You see him make a lot of throws under duress. You see him make a lot of tight-window throws. There were a couple of quarterbacks in this draft that really sat back in a clean pocket and played pitch-and-catch all the time. That's not the NFL. When I evaluate quarterbacks I want to see people in their face, throwing into tight windows.
"I go back to seeing Jarrett play Week 1 against Washington this year and you can go back to my Twitter feed from that day back in September. Some of his red-zone throws in that game were incredible. If you want to see a guy's true accuracy. Go do a cut-up of all the red-zone stuff, his ball placement in the red zone. Not even on that day but over the course of the year, he's one of the best in the class and maybe the best in this year's class. He brings a lot to the table. He really does."
It's one thing to look that way against Washington or defenses in the SEC. But to do it at the NFL level is another, even if it's practice where quarterbacks are protected by red non-contact jerseys and defenses that know they're not permitted to go full-tilt.
Still, Stidham has his moments that leave veterans impressed.
"It's been good," receiver Phillip Dorsett said of having Stidham getting practice snaps. "It's been good. Jarrett's a guy that can make every throw. We all know that. He's learning. He's learning a lot more, just trying to take command of the offense when Tom's not there. He's doing well out there.
"You see [his talent] every day. When he's doing scout team, he has a cannon. He's got a rocket for an arm. I'd say that's his biggest strength."
Jakobi Meyers was on the receiving end of many of Stidham's throws this summer. He acknowledges that he's only seen so many pro quarterbacks up close, but what he's seen from Stidham this fall and winter has only been a continuation of what began back in rookie minicamp.
"I know if we're doing scout team or something, he makes some throws where it's not really our offense and he's just showing his arm off, he's made some pretty crazy throws," Meyers explained. "Even when he's in our offense. When we're actually in practice and Tom's not going, he makes some pretty good throws then. I mean, he definitely has a lot of arm talent, and he shows it here and there."
Not a burner by any means, Stidham's athleticism has stood out at times as well, according to his teammates. During a season in which the Patriots have faced several remarkably mobile quarterbacks -- Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott among them -- Stidham couldn't replicate what they do, but he could test the Patriots defense with his ability to roll out and throw accurately on the move.
By the sounds of it, week to week, whatever the Patriots defense was about to face, he could at least offer a whiff of what they were to see.
"That's the crazy thing," Meyers said. "Any team we play, he can kind of show a little bit just from different areas of the field. On the move. In the pocket. He can step in and do all of that. It's been real good having him around. Definitely very useful."
"He moves well," Brooks said. "He can get in places he needs to get and make throws he needs to make ... I feel like that's where the game is going nowadays. Everybody wants to get a mobile quarterback that can do a lot of things because it's tough on a defense. You have to worry about pass protection, and it just puts more emphasis on the game of trying to contain the quarterback. When you got a guy like that who's dynamic like that throwing and running it helps a lot -- for the offense and preparing the defense too."
The Patriots currently have two quarterbacks under contract for 2020: Stidham and Kessler. With the possibility looming that Brady ends up elsewhere next year, Stidham could be looked to as "The Next Guy."
There is plenty of quarterback movement scheduled to occur across the league this offseason -- Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater and others could certainly be had for a team needing a bridge passer -- but as it stands right now, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Stidham is taking meaningful snaps in a year.
If that's the case, winning the respect of his teammates and having an understanding of the offense would be just as important as his arm talent or his ability to buy himself time. With the work he's put in this season -- often with Kessler and assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi -- he's apparently made progress in that regard.
"He's been great. He really has," Kessler said of Stidham. "We've gotten along really well, and we're helping each other out a lot. Him more so helping me with the offense, where it developed from, why this play is being called, why this play is in. He's been there. Ran it in OTAs. Ran it in camp. 'This is where it came from. This is what we're reading.' "
"Obviously, Josh and Mick will go over that but he's been out there and repped it before and done different things so he's telling me what he's seeing. And for me, going through that, my rookie year was a couple of years ago, so I've been giving him stuff that I've learned or ways to study, study habits, different things like that. But he's mature far beyond his years. He doesn't act like a rookie. He does a lot of things at a really high level."
That beyond-his-years demeanor avails itself, Kessler said, when they're studying in long days at the office. They'll go over game plans, test one another, just talk football. And the 23-year-old doesn't miss a beat.
"A lot of guys, your rookie year, it can be too much for you," Kessler said. "It really can. Sometimes you get overwhelmed. But he always knows what's going on. He's always one step ahead of everything. It's been cool to see that."
While the football-watching world hasn't seen much from Stidham the past several months, those who have seen him indicate there's promise there. Good thing for the Patriots, given the uncertainty swirling around the future of that position at the moment.