FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick has promised us that, beginning with tonight's opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium, we will see plenty of backup quarterback Rohan Davey this exhibition season.
The Patriots want to see exactly what they have in Tom Brady's primary understudy, and if the experience Davey got in a spring starring for NFL Europe's Berlin Thunder will manifest itself against NFL competition.
Davey hasn't seen much playing time in his two seasons with New England, logging only nine regular-season pass attempts in three games.
But everyone finally saw this year what the 2002 fourth-round pick is capable of when given the opportunity, as he earned NFL Europe Offensive Player of the Year honors, and so far in camp, Davey's teammates and coaches have seen a new and improved quarterback.
"He's doing things this year that he just didn't do last year," Belichick said. "He's not only more comfortable, but he recognizes things at a quicker rate and has made better decisions, hasn't gotten fooled as much, and when things have been cloudy, I think he's made better decisions overall than he has in the last couple of years. To me, it's one of those things that has really jumped out in this camp. "The coaches notice it, the defensive players notice it, and I think it's something that has stood out to pretty much everybody who has watched him, that where he is now relative to last year is a significantly higher point.
"He's getting plenty of snaps in practice and he has done well with that. He got a lot of playing experience in Europe, but this is a little different level than that, and he needs to be able to perform at this level, for the coaches' sake, for his sake, for the confidence of the team's sake, for everybody. Everybody needs to see that . . . I think there's a much higher probability that he will perform better in game competition. But that has to be seen."
Davey sees the opportunity that's in front of him. With Kliff Kingsbury even less experienced and veteran Jim Miller still weeks away from seeing game action, the No. 2 job has pretty much been gift-wrapped.
He'll take his first step toward claiming it tonight with a solid showing against one of the league's elite teams. He knows what the coaches want to see from him.
"It's not something you want to put too much pressure on yourself about because it's still a game," Davey said this week. "I've just got to go out there and do what I'm coached to do, don't do too much, and make plays. That's the bottom line. At the end of the game, at the end of the year, they want to know who made plays and who put the team in the best situation to win football games. Who executed their offense, who went out there and commanded the team. That's what's been preached through this camp, and that's what I'm ready to do."
Consider what Davey did at LSU: He's the only player in school history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season (2001), for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games, and he tossed 29 touchdowns in just 12 starts for the Tigers. Still, it has taken a few years for him to realize the challenge the NFL presents, even with a howitzer for a right arm.
"A lot of times, my mistakes come on trying to squeeze balls in little spots because I have so much confidence in my arm," said the 26-year-old. "Throwing it away is a good play sometimes. Being young, you don't think that throwing it away is a good thing. Young guys in my position and young guys that get thrown into the starting position, if they could grasp that and understand that quick, [they'd] be a better player.
"I still haven't grasped it fully because I feel like I want to make a play on every play, but once I grasp that fully and start doing that, I'll be much better."
Relying on his arm, Davey acknowledged, caused him to neglect his mechanics. His coaches saw that he wasn't pointing his left foot toward his target, which can lead to errant throws. He's fixed that, too, this offseason.
"That sounds easy, but when you're trying to learn the offense and where to go with the football, thinking on the run . . . it's hard for you to get yourself going in that direction," Davey said. "But the phase I'm at now in my development is, basically, I know where to go with the football now, so it's a lot easier for me to point my toe and hit the target. I got away with a lot of things in college because I had a live arm. Whatever I missed in footwork I made up for with just letting it rip. But now, at this level, it's getting the physical stuff down and mechanical stuff. It's not there, but it's definitely improved."
The same can be said for top pick Vince Wilfork, who will make his much-anticipated professional debut. The rookie out of the University of Miami is adjusting to a new role on the defensive line. As the nose tackle in the Patriots' 3-4 front, he's asked to line up over center and play what's called the "0" technique and occupy blockers, in contrast to the aggressive style the Hurricanes played.
"I knew coming in here I was going to have to work hard at the nose," Wilfork said. "It's a lot I have to learn. But I'm picking it up, I'm moving along."
Said Belichick, "I think Vince has made steady improvement for us out there. I think he has a much better understanding now of what we're looking for."
For his first game, Wilfork said, he's looking to not be noticed for the wrong reasons. "I just want to play a solid game. [Do] everything they taught me and perform to my best. No mentals [errors]. I don't think I'll have any mentals. With minicamps and training camps, I know the plays, so that's not the thing. It's all physical. So I'm prepared for it and I'm ready to go. No nerves.
"I'm just excited to play my first NFL game."