The New England Patriots open training camp on July 24. To get you ready, we will go through the roster position by position, highlighting the story lines, battles, and key players. We kick it off with the quarterback position.
Until Tom Brady retires, it's a two-way battle for second place behind him. That means incumbent back-up Ryan Mallett and rookie Jimmy Garoppolo will go head-to-head to determine who will be the one faced with leading the team in their absolute worst-case scenario: losing Brady for any length of time.
Tom Brady: Entering his 15th NFL season and 14th as a starter, Brady may have a bigger chip on his shoulder than ever before with recent debate that he has fallen out of the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. A down year in 2013 could be attributed to losing many of his favorite targets from 2012, and injuries to several players brought in to replace his former guys. He and his receivers will have to get on the same page and stay healthy if the Patriots are going to be successful in 2014.
Ryan Mallett: Brady's back-up of three years, Mallett has been the constant subject of trade rumors since joining the team. He has always been regarded for his big arm, but he lacks mechanical fluidity (footwork, going through progressions, throwing motion, etc.) and hasn't improved dramatically in those areas. Mallett enters a contract year in 2014, and is now faced with his own imminent usurping as the back-up.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Whether he's the heir apparent to Brady or simply the next in a series of insurance policies on the franchise quarterback, Garoppolo is in an important position, albeit one lacking urgency. His skill-set is almost a polar opposite of Mallett. He already possesses a quick release, sound footwork in the pocket, and an ability to control the trajectory on his passes.
1. Tom Brady
2. Ryan Mallett
3. Jimmy Garoppolo
Barring a last-minute trade of Mallett, it seems likely that the Patriots will enter the season with three quarterbacks on the roster for the first time since 2011 (Brady, Mallett, with Brian Hoyer as the top back-up). Mallett has a great deal of experience in the Patriots' system, which may make it difficult for Garoppolo to knock him out of the No. 2 slot for the time being.