The other Patriots quarterback you should be paying attention to

Ryan Hannable
January 30, 2019 - 9:18 am

ATLANTA — Who will be Tom Brady’s eventual replacement?

This has seemingly been a major topic in New England ever since Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers last season, and even picked up some steam in recent weeks when some NFL mock drafts projected Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray to the Patriots.

New England has been connected to a few quarterbacks entering the draft, and some have even started to look at the free agent market to gauge who might be a good fit in the system. 

While it is clear the team does need to have a young quarterback in place sooner rather than later, people often forget they have one already under team control — rookie Danny Etling.

The LSU product, who was selected in the seventh round and spent the entire season on the practice squad, has been more involved behind the scenes than the average rookie not even on the 53-man roster. He has traveled with the team on the road (typically practice squad players are left behind) and is even on the sidelines during games (another thing that doesn’t usually happen with those players).

“He is an awesome kid, first and foremost,” Patriots assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. “He came in with an awesome attitude. Very professional. He works his butt off. He does whatever is asked of him and more. He’s everything we could ask for in terms of where we picked him and what he does and what he tries to do. Whatever we ask him to do, he does and then some. He’s been really good.”

Schuplinski is the coach who has worked the most with Etling this season, as he spends most of his time with the young quarterbacks that come into the system. He worked extensively with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett before they got their chances with other teams. It would be very hard to throw a rookie into a room with Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels going over the offense, which is where Schuplinski comes in to help with the learning process and not to hold Brady, McDaniels and the quarterbacks room back.

Etling has been given special projects over the course of the year. Some involve film studies, while others are things he observes while on the field on a game day.

“He does some things for us during the game, and I also think there’s an opportunity for him to learn and see things at real game speed and live action and the way they happen in the game, the way we have to play the game,” Bill Belichick said earlier this year. “We talk about a lot of things in meetings about how we’re going to do this or how we’re going to do that, but sometimes in game situations, it plays out a little bit differently for one reason or another, or things get changed for one reason or another. Just having a full understanding of the process I think is good experience for players at that position.”

Since he’s on the practice squad and can’t play in games, being on the field during them is the only way he can get better when it comes to gameday situations.

“It’s been cool,” Schuplinski said. “I think it is important for us to get him down on the field, whether to experience the environment for the first time even if it is a home game, or on the road, especially the division games to see what those stadiums are like and the atmospheres. That will be some of the stuff he will have to deal with. That has been really cool. Whatever we ask him do, whether it is chart plays or get the iPad for Tom, or for Josh, or for Brian [Hoyer] if they need an extra look at something. He does basically whatever is asked.”

The No. 1 trait Etling has demonstrated as a rookie is his work ethic. He said earlier in the year he was spending nearly 16 hours at the Gillette Stadium facility every day watching film, working out, asking questions — anything he needs to do to help him become a better player.

Schuplinski said he’s never come across a rookie that works harder.

“He’s in awful early and he’s there awful late,” he said. “He’s really on top of his stuff. For a guy who is on the practice squad and is not playing, he has questions all the time about specifically the game plan. He wants to know the answers to certain things we are doing. He will put in time own his own for himself, but he will also put in time with other guys. Maybe give them extra throws after practice, whatever he needs to do to help somebody else, he’s been doing that too. Just a really awesome worker and a great kid to be around.”

Etling has even impressed backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who is 33 years old and has bounced around the league, so he’s seen a lot.

“Danny has done a great job,” Hoyer said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s one of the hardest workers in the building. He loves football. You combine those two, you are always going to be improving. I think he’s done those things. He asks good questions when he’s in our room.”

As it relates to next season, Hoyer is under contract, but with a $3 million cap hit, perhaps the team will want to save some money at that position. This is where Etling could come into play.

It’s hard to know exactly how much he’s improved on the field with no live-game experience and also limited reps in practice, but he certainly needs to be factored into the QB equation. The fact that he’s been so involved this year as a rookie is telling — it really does seem the team sees him having a bright future.

So, while the Patriots certainly will be looking at quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, just remember they have Etling in their back pocket.

“Ultimately, he’s going to control that with what he does, but so far he’s improved a lot on all of his fundamentals that we have asked to him to,” Schuplinski said. “We don’t have to worry much about his work ethic I would say, but he works hard on those fundamentals daily. I think he has got a lot better a lot a lot of things — footwork, drops, throwing mechanics. 

“I am anxious to see what he has for his future because I know he has the work ethic, so as long as he keeps putting in the work I think he will be alright.”

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