Ryan Mallett's Strong Training Camp Takes a Hit in Inconsistent Preseason Opener

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IAugust 8, 2014

It was not a banner night for Patriots backup QB Ryan Mallett.
It was not a banner night for Patriots backup QB Ryan Mallett.USA TODAY Sports

Given the opportunity to start in the New England Patriots' preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, Thursday night could have been a showcase for quarterback Ryan Mallett.

It ended up being a struggle.

In his first four years, Mallett has flashed the arm talent that made him a third-round pick for the Patriots in 2011. He has not, however, shown the consistency that is required of a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.

This year looked to be different. Mallett has had the strongest training camp of his career thus far, delivering accurate throws and mostly making good decisions.

On Thursday night, he showed a lot of the same deficiencies that have followed him since he entered the NFL. His footwork was erratic. His timing and rhythm seemed off. He looked antsy.

In that sense, the performance shouldn't alter your view of Mallett. We don't know anything now that we didn't know before the game started.

To be fair, he was operating behind an offensive line that wasn't giving him much time to make a read and deliver a throw.

Credit: NFL.com

He also didn't get much help from his receivers. Second-year wide receiver Josh Boyce ran in a completely different direction from where Mallett thought he was going to go; undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch didn't turn and look for the ball on a swing pass that hit him square on the back of his arm as he dashed unaware up the sideline.

But on the occasions when he did have a clean pocket, he still wasn't stepping into all of his throws. He still was inaccurate on short throws. He still looked frazzled.

Mallett's mechanics have looked better in practice, with sharper footwork and quick progression through his reads. Things always change in a real game situation, and it's more natural for a quarterback to regress to what he's more comfortable with.

Whether the early pressure rattled him or not on Thursday, only he could answer that question.

It wasn't all bad for Mallett, either. He showed off that cannon arm when he threaded two defenders for a 15-yard completion to Boyce.

His final stat line may have looked even better if he hadn't been deprived of a pair of completioins that were wiped away by penalties. Both were on third down, and both would have converted the distance to move the chains.

The feeling about Mallett's performance may also be slightly different if rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hadn't come in and outperformed him out of the gate.

Contrary to Mallett, Garoppolo has struggled mightily throughout training camp. It seems not a day goes by when Garoppolo isn't responsible for an interception, fumble, sack or some combination of the three.

However, it was Garoppolo, not Mallett, who was lighting up the Redskins defensealbeit with the backups facing the backupshitting nine of his 13 pass attempts for 157 yards and a touchdown. It was Garoppolo who looked comfortable in the pocket, eluded pressure, got the ball out quickly and delivered accurate strikes at all levels of the field.

The Patriots spent a second-round pick on Garoppolo, and it didn't take more than a couple of hours for people to start asking whether he had been drafted to be the heir apparent to Tom Brady.

It's easy to forget about Mallett, the guy who's been in New England for three years, toiling away as he learns the offense and the ways of the NFL game. The selection of Garoppolo, combined with Mallett entering the final year of his contract, has spawned speculation that Mallett could be on the move in a trade. Belichick has personally shot down these claims, but even if they were still entertaining the thought of a deal, this was not a good showcase.

At this point, the Patriots would probably not receive more than their original investment of a third-round pick. Trading him for anything less than that would be a huge loss in value for the Patriots; They would lose value in not only the round of the draft pick, but they would also be short a quarterback who knows the Patriots' system.

Garoppolo may have looked good on Thursday night, but he is still very young and inexperienced in the Patriots offense. He is making a big transition from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NFL, and the less pressure the Patriots put on him in doing so, the better off he will be.

Barring a dramatic turn of events, Mallett will most likely play out the final year of his deal and walk away as a free agent next offseason. 

What happens from here on out will only have bearing on how other teams view him when that time comes—whether it's as a potential starter or career backup.