FOXBOROUGH -- It's about shoes.
Rohan Davey wants to be the one called upon to fill the shoes of Tom Brady, if necessary.
Doug Flutie wants to fill the shoes Davey wore last year.
Matt Cassel wants to fill any shoes belonging to an NFL quarterback. Fit in where he can get in, so to speak. That's why he's often seen carrying the shoulder pads of those above him from the practice field to the locker room at the Patriots' training camp, and he'll buff cleats if he has to.
Perhaps the shakiest pair of quarterback shoes at the camp belongs to Davey, the fourth-year pro from Louisiana State.
See, while Brady's shoes have made marks in Super Bowl turf, and Flutie's have done likewise in Grey Cup championships, Davey's shoes -- distinctive thanks to self-done side splits to allow room for corns -- have been seen in action on an NFL field just seven times in three seasons.
Davey has thrown just 19 passes, of which only eight were caught by fellow Patriots, for only 88 yards and no touchdowns.
Not that Davey, a fourth-round draft pick in 2002, is overcompensated, but he has made nearly $155,000 per completion in his career. Maybe Brady should re-renegotiate.
Had the Patriots paid Brady -- a bargain of a sixth-round choice in 2000 -- at such a rate, their books would have taken a $206 million hit in his five seasons.
Davey knows he has it good.
He also knows others covet his position as backup for one of the best and most durable quarterbacks in the game, for the franchise that is the first dynasty of the 21st century.
He may have but 19 attempts to his credit, but Davey is the only quarterback other than Brady to throw more than one pass for the Patriots in any of the past three seasons.
Huard, Kingsbury, Miller, Redman . . . gone. Welcome Flutie and Cassel.
''Every year you come into it, you've got to earn a spot," Davey said. ''Every year there are different challenges. Every year there are veterans coming into camp, rookies coming into camp, trying to earn a spot on the football team. They keep coming.
''Just because you were the No. 2 guy last year, or you were on the team last year, does not guarantee you're going to be on the team this year. Even though the coaches know what you can do to some degree, you still have to show it. That's the challenge."
As big a challenge, says Davey, is that most of his work goes unnoticed by fans and media. His best plays are on the practice field. If it wasn't for exhibition games or garbage time, a television camera might never be pointed in his direction.
''Preseasons are vital," Davey said. ''Regardless of where you are [on the depth chart], you have to go out with the mentality that I'm going out here to show what I can do. Show my teammates and coaches that being thrown into a situation where I have to produce, I can do the job. So it's very important.
''It's serious. The thing you have to understand is you have to produce. That's the type of business we're in.
''Every time you step on the field, in practice or whatever, you have to show you know all over again. [Quarterbacks] have to show that we can run the team, run the operation. That we can handle everything that's being thrown at us. Every time we step out, it's a whole other challenge."
Davey hasn't looked like the best of the three wannabe understudies thus far in camp. Without a coach's analysis, it's impossible to know when his wayward throws were the fault of a receiver running a wrong route, or when a play's timing was muddled because of a protection breakdown, but he's been far from crisp.
Flutie, the veteran many believe will win the No. 2 spot, is learning the offense and hasn't looked comfortable yet, either. However, one would expect him to settle in soon.
''Having him here, learning from him, seeing the knowledge that he has accumulated over the years is a pleasure for me as well as the other quarterbacks," Davey said. ''Because he brings a slightly different twist to it. He looks at things a little bit different than, say, Tom does or I do, and we can feed off that. So I'm thrilled to have Doug here."
Oddly, Cassel, a seventh-round pick who is just trying to show enough to stay on the team, has often looked more poised than Flutie or Davey. He certainly has thrown the ball better and connected outside and downfield more often than the two veterans.
Davey said the competition doesn't bother him, and he's doing all he can to help Cassel learn the system.
''The only thing you can do is step your game up; take your game to a whole other level," Davey said. ''Show that hey, I've been here, and I know what's going on. I've got the confidence of my teammates and coaches, so I'm going to get on the field and show you what I can do."
This could be an important week for Davey. The Patriots' first exhibition game is in Cincinnati Friday.
Flutie was the second quarterback to take snaps, after Brady, in the team's live scrimmage Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. That means little at this point of the year, but if anything, Flutie is a gamer. Practice is important, but veteran NFL observers say the undersized Flutie has never been a practice superstar.
Regardless of practice struggles so far, what happens if Flutie shines when given playing time against the Bengals with a mix of front-line players? If Flutie moves to No. 2 on the depth chart at any time in camp, Davey could find himself in a struggle with Cassel for No. 3, and if Davey doesn't win that battle, he might be looking for a job come September.
The only time Bill Belichick kept four quarterbacks on the active roster was when Brady was a rookie.
''The goal every year is to come out and make the roster, but you can't really worry about making the team," Davey said. ''You have to come out here [at practice] in throwing opportunities or in the preseason games and you've just got to play ball.
''We're all here because we can play football. Once we get on the field, we show we can do that. Personnel decisions and who makes the team in the long run, that's basically up to the coaches.
''I can't control that, and none of my teammates can control who [the coaches] want and who they'll put in certain spots. All we can do is come out here and do our jobs and compete."