No guarantees have ever accompanied anyone on the Patriots’ roster under head coach Bill Belichick, so quarterback Jacoby Brissett knows improvement is essential to ensure his longevity in New England.
Partly for protection against Tom Brady’s looming suspension, more so because he simply liked the player, Belichick selected Brissett with the 91st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Brady would indeed miss the first four games of the regular season, thrusting the North Carolina State product into a backup role behind Jimmy Garoppolo. But after Garoppolo went down in the second quarter of New England’s week two contest vs. the Miami Dolphins, Brissett found himself as the starting quarterback for a team with Super Bowl expectations.
The Patriots hung on to beat the Dolphins with Brissett under center and split his two games as a starter, shutting out the Houston Texans but suffering that same fate themselves against the Buffalo Bills. Over about 10 quarters of football, Brissett went 34 for 55 passing (61.9 completion percentage) with no touchdowns or interceptions, also carrying the ball 16 times for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Brissett didn’t exactly wow Patriots fans, but he definitely didn’t hurt the team in his audition-by-fire, either. What’s more, he played the week four game vs. the Bills with a torn ligament in his right thumb – his throwing arm – prompting a trip to injured reserve afterwards.
The odds of the Patriots actually needing Brissett again in 2016 were slim to none, but he received a designation to return stamped upon his trip to the IR. He traveled with the team during his eight weeks on the shelf.
“Having a year under your belt definitely helps you out,” Brissett told reporters after practice on Monday morning. “I’m just trying to use that knowledge from last year and apply it to this year and definitely not try to make the mistakes I made last year.”
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Clearly, Belichick thought highly of Brissett as a rookie. But given the promise of Brady – barring injury – for 16 regular season games, as well as the presence of Garoppolo, nothing is guaranteed for Brissett in his second NFL season.
Last season’s special circumstances notwithstanding, Belichick hasn’t kept three quarterbacks on New England’s 53-man roster for a full season since 2011.
Brissett played just okay in the Patriots’ preseason opener vs. Jacksonville last week, completing 8 of his 13 passes for 88 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. While he demonstrated great arm strength on his two final throws of the game, the lack of touch on the ball cost New England a shot at tying things up with the Jaguars. Each of his last two attempts sailed out of the back of the end zone, well over the head of any receiver in the area.
Upon reviewing the film of his performance, Brissett believes he can correct the mistakes he made vs. Jacksonville the next time around.
“Just going through that situation again,” Brissett said of managing his accuracy. “Coach puts us through that situation in practice, so when those situations approach in a game, I’ll be ready for them.”
In 11-on-11 drills during Monday’s practice – a glorified walk-through for the Patriots as they prepare to depart for West Virginia with the Houston Texans – Brissett attempted only two passes, completing one (the other was dropped by tight end Sam Cotten).
While Brady and Garoppolo took the remainder of the snaps, Brissett spent time on the next field over, throwing to a stationary target (an assistant coach) while a second coach rushed him with a pad as he dropped back to pass. Brissett hit his target on 11 of his 13 throws, some more on point than others.
Only once has Belichick moved on from a quarterback drafted as highly as Brissett after one season: Kevin O’Connell. The ill-fated third round selection of New England in 2008 was waived during final cut downs leading up to the 2009 season, the Patriots opting to keep undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer instead as Brady’s primary backup upon return from his ACL injury.
There’s no one behind Brissett on the depth chart potentially pushing him out the door. New England may ultimately decide that additional pieces are necessary on other areas of the roster than quarterback, even if Brady did just turn 40 and even if Garoppolo’s contract expires at the end of the season.
Brissett has spent the last year-plus learning from perhaps the best quarterback to ever play the game in Brady, but also credited the rest of the quarterback room when asked how fortunate he’s been to be in this position – Garoppolo, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterback coach Jerry Schuplinski.
“It’s definitely a blessing to come into a situation like this and learn,” he said.
Brissett, who was the last player off the field at practice Monday, will have his chances over the next three weeks of the preseason to state his case that he belongs on the Patriots 53-man roster come Sept. 7 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
Improvement is the only option for Brissett, who was rated at the fourth-best quarterback in the AFC East from week one of the preseason by Pro Football Focus behind Garoppolo, Nathan Peterman of the Bills and Christian Hackenberg of the New York Jets.
If Brissett plays like the quarterback he knows he can be, he just might force the Patriots’ hand into keeping him around.
“Just keep getting better and let the rest happen,” Brissett said of how he can solidify his spot in New England. “Coach will take care of the rest, [I’ll] do my job and put my best foot forward every day.”