Ryan Mallett fires a pass in training camp, much is expected in his development this season (Steve Balestrieri photo)

The NFL pre-season begins tonight for the New England Patriots with a game against the New Orleans Saints, and while many fans are clamoring to see how QB Tom Brady interacts with shiny new toy Brandon Lloyd and old friends Jabar Gaffney and Donté Stallworth, it should be remembered that last season Brady was held out of the first pre-season game. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many things worth watching in the first go-round.

Ryan Mallett, the audition begins-
While Brady may not play at all considering the flux at the offensive line position, or if he does, be very limited and on a specific snap count …say 8-10 reps just to shake off the rust, Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer will be auditioning for the job as Brady’s back-up and expect to see a lot of Mallett in the first game.

Mallett has not had the kind of camp many envisioned for him this year so far (this writer included). He possesses the arm strength to fire the ball anywhere on the field, but his reads have been slow and too many times he frequently has been forced into checking down to secondary receiver (sounds familiar eh Jets fans).

That kind of slow reaction and just an extra second of indecision can cost a team dearly. It can result in QB hits, sacks or worse…turnovers. Like Brady, Mallett isn’t the most fleet of foot of QBs but he’ll have to learn to slide in the pocket better and give himself the extra time to throw and make plays.

That’s not to say he’s a lost cause, far from it, however he’ll have to step it up in the game action and prove he’s ready to take that next step. Bill Belichick praised him this week, saying he was far better at this point in the pre-season this year than last. Against an active Steve Spagnuolo run defense, this may the time.

Hoyer Playing for more this pre-season?-
For Brian Hoyer, he’s entering his fourth season as Brady’s backup, but in four years he’s only attempted 43 passes. Last season he attempted only one, and that was in the final game of the season, a 22 yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, that broke the NFL record for tight ends.

Hoyer, slightly undersized at 6’2, has mastered the Patriots offense, there is confidence among the coaching staff that if…anything untoward happened to Brady, he could step up and run the offense at a high level. The question for him, is he ready for more?

Hoyer’s name is frequently tossed around as a possible pick-up for a team searching for a new QB. But as so often happens here in New England, I think people are making a tad too much of his abilities and over-inflating his worth on the market.

Hoyer is a good solid backup and if a team was looking for QB depth, then he would be a fine addition. But if he does well in pre-season, don’t expect teams to begin dangling high round draft picks in front of Belichick clamoring for his services.

While I think he’s capable, I haven’t seen anything in his game that I would point to and say, that’s the guy who’ll lead my team to a playoff berth and beyond. That being said, both he and Mallett should see plenty of action this pre-season and will be nice to see what they can do. Let the games begin….football season is back!

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