The State of The Backups

Matt Cassel is no longer joking around or throwing passes to Tom Brady during the Patriots OTA's. That job falls to a new set of backups. Though the team has familiar faces returning to backup Brady, who will win the No. 2 role and who will end up moving on?

Tom Brady and Matt Cassel: two players who have directly benefited from being in the back up quarterback position for the New England Patriots. Brady, three Super Bowl rings later, is one of the most respected and successful quarterbacks in the league and Cassel is now in position to have the starting job with the Kansas City Chiefs. Recently, Kevin O’Connell was named as the second string quarterback and free agent Brian Hoyer was acquired for additional depth. What does this mean for Matt Gutierrez?

Matt Gutierrez (Idaho State) has been playing back up for the Patriots for the past three seasons. Gutierrez lost his second string position to Matt Cassel and then Kevin O’Connell. O'Connell is going into his second year in the NFL after being drafted by the Patriots in the third round (94th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. These two have invested their time, and hard work, not to start, but just to maintain a roster spot. New England has shown the benefit of signing players in the latter rounds and more specifically, those undrafted. Newly signed rookie Brian Hoyer from Michigan State adds even more competition to the mix.

Kevin O’Connell made his collegiate mark in San Diego State as their 4-time team captain passing for 7,689 yards and 36 total touchdowns. Unlike Gutierrez, O’Connell maintained his health, mastered a school’s offense and also put up impressive numbers for the Aztecs. He recorded 9,001 total offensive yards, averaging 222.03 yards per game throughout his entire career. O’Connell currently holds the school’s record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (906 total yards). Upon being drafted, O’Connell was noted for his promptness and clean footwork when dropping back into the pocket. The Tennessee native has been compliments for his arm strength and skillful accuracy to receivers, even in a cluttered field. All this was established while he was working with a substantially struggling offensive line and moderate wide receivers. Last season, O’Connell beat out Gutierrez for the back-up position to Matt Cassel. O’Connell is more valuable to New England as a back-up because of his ability to adapt to the pro-style system and his capability to read the field under pressure.

Matt Gutierrez was acquired as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2007. Since then, he’s been released, resigned to the practice squad and then placed on active roster all during the 2008 season. Gutierrez’s college career also involved some moving around. In 2006, he transferred to Idaho State from Brady’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, due to losing the starting position to Chad Henne (who eventually was drafted in the second round, 57th overall, during the 2008 Draft). Gutierrez was unable to play due to a torn labrum (shoulder). In his first season as an Idaho State Bengal, he earned Outstanding Newcomer recording 16 touchdowns and 2,237 yards. Since then Gutierrez has not been able to make the transformation to be Brady’s back up and during this past season, Cassel’s. During the past three years with the Patriots, he’s only thrown one pass for 15 yards. His build is very similar to Brady’s in height, weight and throwing ability. Gutierrez’s greatest weakness is that is he has not been able to gain experience in high-pressure games. The third year Patriot now has two things to be concerned with: how much Kevin O’Connell will improve with more game time and Brian Hoyer’s adaptability to the system. Hoyer maintained a 16-11 record in the 27 games in which he started and he may force Gutierrez to fight (again) for a spot on the active roster.

Brian Hoyer stands at 6’2, 215lbs and while working out at this year’s Combine, the Ohio native registered a 32 inch vertical jump and 5.05 in the 40 yard dash. Speed is not a necessity in a quarterback especially when you’re standing behind the offensive line that’s in place in New England. Brady ran a 5.23 during his combine workout in 2000. During his years as a Michigan State Spartan, Hoyer accumulated 6,159 yards and career total of 35 touchdowns. Hoyer was fighting for an opportunity to play in the NFL as he explained to the Detroit Free Press, “While it would have been great to get drafted, I’m looking forward to joining the New England Patriots. They made it clear to me that I’ll have an opportunity to compete, and I’m honored that such a great franchise will give me that chance.”

Tom Brady is healthy and ready to play and the NFL knows it. With Kevin O’Connell as the designated back up, the third string position is available to Gutierrez. Bill Belichick is known for choosing players that fit into his vision for the future and Gutierrez is running out of time to prove his significance to the Patriots. The acquisition of Brian Hoyer has only made this more difficult for the third year back-up.

Kisha Tapangan covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for To read more of her material, visit her blog at or email her here.


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