The last time the Patriots gambled on handing their backup quarterback job to a second-year player who had come out of the second day of the draft, things turned out OK.
That's not to say that Matt Cassel (seventh round, 2005) is another Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) waiting to happen. But with Doug Flutie's retirement, Cassel temporarily has been bumped up to No. 2 on the depth chart. And he's confident he could handle the position if that's where he stays.
"It's a role that hopefully I can step into," Cassel said. "As of right now, I'm just doing everything I can to put myself into a position to hopefully fulfill that role and hopefully get myself ready. God forbid if anything were to happen (to Brady), that's the position I'd want to be in and prepare myself for."
Cassel has letters of recommendation from both Flutie and Brady, with the latter saying how much he has enjoyed working out with Cassel in the offseason. "I kind of love to be there with him" in the weight room, Brady said. "He really pushes me. He's a very good athlete who is strong. He's fast and he likes to work hard. I think he has some great traits."
Cassel has good size (6-2, 222) and comes from an elite college program (USC). Of course, the big knock on him is his lack of game experience. He threw only 33 passes in college while backing up both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. He hasn't started a game since his senior year of high school, in 1999.
Brady might not have been a household name when he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe early in the 2001 season, but he had been 20-5 as a two-year starter at Michigan and had led the Wolverines to a pair of bowl victories.
"I'm not going to say that I've started a bunch of games and I've proven myself because that's not the case," Cassel said. "All I can say is that, if ever given an opportunity, I have prepared myself enough to be competitive and go out and win ballgames."
The Patriots still could sign a veteran to either backup Brady or at least give Cassel some competition for the job. As of June 2 there were several known commodities still unsigned, including Kerry Collins, who started the 2005 season opener against New England, and Jay Fiedler, who should be familiar to the Patriots' coaches from his days with the Dolphins.
Since being elevated to No. 1, Brady hasn't needed any real relief. He has started all 89 games since taking over for Bledsoe. The Patriots usually have played Brady deep into blowouts, although they did sit him down early in last year's regular-season finale against Miami. Cassel came in and saw his first extensive action, completing 11 of 20 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-26 loss. After orchestrating a spirited rally from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit, he failed to connect on a last-second two-point conversion pass that would have forced overtime.
The only other QBs on the roster right now are Todd Mortensen and Corey Bramlet. Mortensen failed to hook on with the Lions last summer as an undrafted free agent from the University of San Diego. The Patriots signed him in January and allocated him to NFL Europe. Bramlet, an undrafted free agent from Wyoming, was the lone QB at the Patriots' rookie minicamp.
"It's kind of nice to be able to take all the reps and get into the offense," Bramlet said. "It's a good way to start learning."
Notes: Patriots minicamp begins in just over a week. The two-day event is the first time both the veterans and the rookies will be in camp together. The team's 10 draft picks, the remaining undrafted rookie free agents, and the veteran free agent acquisitions will all have an opportunity to work with and learn from the experienced players. ... Discussions with veteran free agent and former Patriot Ty Law continue. According to a source familiar with the situation, Patriots' director of pro personnel Scott Pioli is engaged in more substantive dialog with Law's agent Carl Poston. Law's current suitors are the Titans, Chiefs and the Patriots. ... June first roster cuts came and went without any significant player moves by the Patriots. The team's release of undrafted rookie free agent safety Keon Jackson was the only move. The remaining players can be found on the team roster page.