This rookie's story sure sounds familiar
FOXBOROUGH -- A few weeks before the draft, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ventured to De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., to work out quarterback Matt Gutierrez, an alumnus of the Northern California Catholic school. De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur was eager to put in a good word about Gutierrez, who helped De La Salle set the national record for consecutive victories (151).
"I said, 'I can't tell you anything about his mechanics. You know that stuff better than me, but I can tell you about his character,' " said Ladouceur. According to the legendary coach, McDaniels replied, "We know about his character. We think he's a lot like the guy we have now."
That guy is Tom Brady.
It's easy to scoff at the notion that a 22-year-old undrafted quarterback from Idaho State is worthy of being compared to Tom Terrific, but the two have a lot in common. Both are from Northern California. Both attended the University of Michigan -- Gutierrez was a much-ballyhooed recruit of the Maize and Blue and spent four years in Ann Arbor before transferring to Division 1-AA Idaho State to finish his college career. At Michigan, both battled freshman phenoms who wore No. 7 (Drew Henson for Brady, Chad Henne for Gutierrez).
And in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category, the principal of De La Salle is Brother Christopher Brady, Tom's uncle.
Bill Belichick & Co. are banking that the connections are more than coincidence. New England didn't invite any other quarterbacks to its recently completed two-day rookie minicamp and invested a $10,000 signing bonus in the 6-foot-4-inch, 231-pound Gutierrez, who signed a two-year, $655,000 contract with the team. The bonus figure is lucrative for an undrafted free agent who put up pedestrian numbers at Idaho State, which went 2-8 last season. In his only season as a starter, Gutierrez completed 54.7 percent of his passes, threw for 2,237 yards, and tossed 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Gutierrez's talent -- like Brady's -- can't be measured simply in numbers, said Ladouceur, who watched Gutierrez go 37-0 in three seasons as De La Salle's signal-caller, leading the school to back-to-back mythical national titles.
"I think [Brady] is a great competitor and a good athlete and he has tremendous intangibles," said Ladouceur. "I've always believed that about Matt, too. He doesn't have a rifle arm or the great running ability, but he's the whole package. He's smart. He's a winner. He's courageous. I think he's a lot like Tommy Brady."
Ladouceur said that, just like Brady, Gutierrez commanded the respect of his teammates at De La Salle, including Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, and Ravens wide receiver Demetrius Williams, who was the pass-catcher for Gutierrez's workout.
"The kids treated him like he was another coach," said Ladouceur. "If he told a kid that a route was too short, they listened. If he said the effort wasn't good enough, they listened. He was critical of himself, too, when his passes were off target."
During the Patriots' rookie minicamp, Gutierrez seemed almost embarrassed by the comparisons to Brady, who was a sixth-round pick in 2000. He said there was no way he could be compared to the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
However, Gutierrez displayed Bradylike class at Michigan, where after waiting two years for his shot, he was supplanted by Henne in 2004 after suffering a torn labrum in his throwing arm. Gutierrez, who had won the starting job, expected to come back as a junior in 2005 and compete for the job. Instead, he was a backup to Henne, who had led the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl in his absence. He transferred to Idaho State for his senior season.
"It was very humbling," said Gutierrez. "The game of football has been known to humble people. That's what's great about it. It's a hard game and I had to go through those experiences to grow and become a better person and become a better player."
Gutierrez said he has no ill will toward Michigan or coach Lloyd Carr. He cited getting his degree from Michigan and the opportunity to play at Idaho State as great life experiences. However, when asked if he felt it was a fair competition, Gutierrez said, "It was what it was. It's in the past and now I'm here and I'm going to come out here and compete every day."
"I think he was told he was going to get an opportunity and he never did," said Ladouceur. "I just wish they gave him a real chance to compete for that job."
It remains to be seen whether Gutierrez will have a real shot to make the Patriots. Brady is entrenched as the starter, and the team has spent significant time developing backup Matt Cassel. Last year's third quarterback, veteran Vinny Testaverde, still has a locker at Gillette Stadium. If Gutierrez does well in training camp, the team may have him ticketed for the practice squad, but that would expose him to other teams that might be willing to give him a roster spot.
Gutierrez probably isn't the next No. 12. But before Brady was so big that his choice of baseball cap was front-page news, he was an unheralded quarterback with an uncertain future, too. Sometimes you never see it coming. Just ask Drew Bledsoe.
Patriots practice squad punter Danny Baugher was named NFL Europa Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 45.2 yards per punt -- and dropping two inside the 20-yard line -- for the Rhein Fire in a 27-24 victory over Frankfurt. The 23-year-old Baugher ranks second in the league with a 42.5-yard average . . . The Patriots released rookie free agent linebacker Justin Warren. The 6-3, 237-pounder from Texas A&M was unable to participate in drills during the rookie minicamp because of an undisclosed injury.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.