Thrown into fast lane, Walter gets up to speed
Ex-Raider still has a long road ahead
FOXBOROUGH - Quarterback Andrew Walter blew out his right throwing shoulder in his final game at Arizona State, then was drafted by the Oakland Raiders.
Both were painful in their own ways.
But thankfully for Walter, he’s starting to see some light after four-plus years buried in Oakland’s “Black Hole.’’ Following the Patriots’ surprising release of Kevin O’Connell on Sunday, the 27-year-old just might be the answer to the all-important question: Who is the top backup to Tom Brady?
Tomorrow night will provide a better indication of where he stands, as he figures to receive extended playing time when the Patriots finish their preseason by hosting the Giants at Gillette Stadium. To understand what that means to Walter, consider the football life he’s lived since late 2004. It started with the devastating injury to his shoulder (AC joint).
“Because of that, I wasn’t able to do the Senior Bowl, combine, Pro Day, any of that stuff. I really was kind of an anomaly,’’ he said. “That is tough, because people in the NFL put so much emphasis on that process. That’s how they judge players.’’
Yet Raiders owner Al Davis has a unique judging method. With the reputation of being enamored with both size and speed - which is reflected in a variety of personnel decisions, most recently the first-round selection of speedy but unpolished receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey - he scooped up the 6-foot-6-inch Walter in the third round of the 2005 draft.
Four years in Oakland left Walter battered and in search of stability.
He didn’t play his rookie season, still recovering from shoulder surgery. The next season, he started eight games and was a punching bag to opposing defenses, absorbing 46 sacks while throwing three touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
The following April, the Raiders selected quarterback-of-the-future JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall selection. Walter played in just three games after Russell’s arrival (one start), a time in which he asked the Raiders for his release. The wish wasn’t granted until this summer. “It was a long time coming,’’ he said.
His years with the Raiders were defined by constant change.
“I had four different head coaches in four years, three different offenses, five different offensive coordinators, and six or seven different play-callers. For a quarterback, when continuity is so important on the offensive side of the ball, we had none of that,’’ he said. “Needless to say, it was a very rough time, a time of adversity, for sure.’’
So when Walter finally was granted his freedom, he didn’t have to think hard about joining the Patriots once they expressed interest. It helped when he considered that Tom Brady, now in his 10th season, had essentially played in just one offensive system. That’s stability-plus.
Walter, who looked at his watch yesterday to remind himself how long he’s been with the team (Aug. 3), has been on a crash course since his arrival.
“This is a complicated offense, with terminology different than anything I’ve been exposed to,’’ he said of the fourth NFL offensive system he’s learned. “This is very much memorization and to have to do that in a truncated period of time is difficult. That’s sort of added to the hectic quality, the hectic feel of learning everybody’s name, trying to get familiar with the offense, get familiar with the area, a million things like that.
“As far as the organization goes, you can tell it’s run very efficiently. Coming from where I came from, I sense the differences and see them.’’
He’s hoping the difference shows in his own play, with tomorrow night a big step in the process.
In limited action in last Friday’s exhibition win over the Redskins, Walter fumbled a snap late in the game that could have been costly if a timeout had not been granted a split second before the miscue. His only other action came in the preseason opener against the Eagles, when he was 5 of 9 for 62 yards.
Even with Walter and rookie free agent Brian Hoyer quarterbacks behind Brady, the Patriots still could acquire a veteran. Speculation has linked them to Eagles veteran A.J. Feeley, a player whom Philadelphia’s front office has received inquiries on from multiple clubs of late, but Walter isn’t concerning himself with such things out of his control.
He’s more focused on finally having some stability around him, which gives him the best chance to shine. Finally.
“The quarterback position is different than any position in sports - if everything around you is firing on all cylinders or on a high level, then you have the ability to go out and play well,’’ said Walter, who was born in Phoenix and grew up in Grand Junction, Colo. “It’s no guarantee you will, but if things aren’t, then you really don’t have that opportunity.
“Coming to New England, I don’t look at it as trying to rectify the past, or attach my name to something different. You work so hard and spend so much time to prepare every week, if you’re a part of a team that wins, it makes it that much better. That’s my motivation - to be part of something great, as opposed to working so hard the last four years and not having much to show for it in regards to wins and losses, specifically wins.’’
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.