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Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Mallett remains unproven

August 09. 2014 8:34PM

New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) scrambles out of the pocket against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. (Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports)

THE Patriots see something in Ryan Mallett. It's obvious. There was room on the roster each of the past two seasons, yet New England opted to pad other places instead of retaining a third quarterback.

Rather than sign a veteran, or keep now-Cleveland-starter Brian Hoyer, the Pats' decision expressed confidence in Mallett by essentially twice entrusting a season with Super Bowl aspirations to him if anything should happen to Tom Brady. That's a significant responsibility, which speaks to what he has shown his coaches in practice, in the film room, and in his opportunities behind the scenes.

But to this point in his pro career, Mallett hasn't given anyone else a chance to see what the Patriots have apparently seen. And until that changes - or at least until he begins to play leaps-and-bounds better than he did in Thursday night's preseason opener - it's silly to even entertain the idea that the former third-round pick could be traded.

On its surface, a deal would make some sense. Mallett is in the final year of his rookie contract with the Patriots, who used a second-round choice to select Jimmy Garoppolo in this year's draft. In a quarterback-starved league, a player with a big arm and the prototypical body is enticing. Especially after he starred in one of college football's top conferences, then spent three years studying under Brady and Bill Belichick.

But ultimately that player has to show he's more than merely potential - and thus far Mallett has failed on that far too often for another team to think he's fit to be their starter.

What could someone have possibly seen to make them think he's capable? He's thrown all of four regular-season passes over three pro seasons, which leaves him the preseason to make his impression, and therein Thursday's 5-for-12, 55-yard performance was typically underwhelming.

It marked the sixth time in his last 10 exhibitions that Mallett has failed to complete more than 50 percent of his passes. Overall during that span he's hit on 50.3 percent of his passes, which would've ranked dead last among qualifying NFL quarterbacks last season, when the league average was 61.2 percent.

That sample includes a total of 171 passes, and with those tosses having totaled 859 yards, Mallett has averaged 5.02 yards per attempt - which would again be a league worst, and by quite a bit. Tampa's Mike Glennon ranked last per that measure at 6.27 in 2013, when the league average was roughly 7.1 yards per throw.

Even with six touchdowns compared to two interceptions over this period, Mallett's passer rating registers at 71.7, which would've ranked 34th of the 37 QBs with enough attempts. And let's not forget, these numbers were compiled in preseason games, primarily against backups (or even bubble players) and defenses that spend little attention to scheming. The numbers to which Mallett compares unfavorably were posted in real games, against the best players, against carefully constructed gameplans.

The best stretch of Mallett's career actually came when he was a rookie. He hit on 12 of 19 passes for 164 yards in his debut, when a touchdown sent his rating soaring to 108.2. He subsequently completed 64.3 percent of his throws in each of his next two outings, too.

But that may be a discouraging realization, considering the context. Remember, the NFL had been mired in a lockout until just before that preseason. Hoyer was still around. And Mallett was personally coming off a full college season, followed by a spring of getting ready for the draft.

Essentially, he was taking the field with something of a simplified playbook, he was competing with less pressure against worse players because he wasn't the primary backup, and he hadn't yet turned rusty from lack of use - so it's disconcerting that his production has deteriorated as the playbook has become more complex, as the level of competition has ticked up, and as his skills have become stale on the sideline.

That doesn't seem to indicate an encouraging growth.

Now, of course, a team could get desperate. Maybe their starter goes down during the early part of this season and they're left to scramble, or maybe they determine their existing plans for the position were a failure, and a big-armed 26-year-old is worth a shot.

But even then, it's hard to see any team giving the Patriots enough in trade for a deal to make sense for New England. Even if he's yet to prove himself, Mallett does have three-plus years in the system, while Garoppolo is ascending from the Football Championship Subdivision and Eastern Illinois, so unless the Pats are blown away by the offer Mallett is likely to be more valuable to them than the return would be.

Unless, of course, he explodes over these next three games. And gives others a chance to see what's thus far been practically invisible to everyone but the Patriots.

New England resumes training camp Monday - but the excitement should reach another level Tuesday, when Chip Kelly brings his Eagles to Gillette Stadium for a couple days of joint practices in advance of Friday's exhibition tilt in Foxborough.

It marks the second straight year the teams will work out together, though this time it is something of a homecoming for New Hampshire's own Kelly, who was born in Dover, graduated from Manchester Central and UNH, then spent more than a decade as an assistant coach with the Wildcats before going to the University of Oregon en route to the NFL.

Kelly brought with him to Philadelphia his trademark brand of innovative, up-tempo offense, so the Eagles' visit should be a test of the Patriots' conditioning and the defense's ability to deal with a talented, fast-paced attack.

Last week there were some questions in Philly about the wisdom of practicing with the Patriots because the in-depth exposure might give Belichick a chance to decipher the wrinkles in Kelly's gameplan, and because that could come back to bite the Eagles if the teams were to meet in the Super Bowl come February.

But Kelly isn't really concerned.

"It would be a great situation that we get a chance to play them in the Super Bowl," he said. "(If) they're going through practice tape and get a chance to see one play that we ran once on a Tuesday in August that we bring out in the third quarter with 1:32 on the clock - and they're prepared for it - then God bless 'em."

Stat of the week: During the 2013 regular season, the Patriots completed 47 passes of more than 20 yards, while allowing 49. In the postseason, however, they gave up 13 such gains through the air, while managing only five of their own.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is

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