RICHMOND, Va. ó What's it like to be Tom Brady's backup?
It's certainly not glamorous. But nor is it the worst job in the world. Just ask Ryan Mallett, who has more or less stood next to or behind Brady since being drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft.
"After four years of having to sit next to that crazy guy, you know you got to put up with him," Mallett said jokingly. "Naw, Tom is great. I tell people all the time, I feel like heís my older brother. We joke around, mess around, but we know when itís time to be serious."
That's the other side of Mallett fans don't normally get to see. As Brady's backup, he's the jokester in the quarterbacks room. He's the guy who seems to always be at his best when he's playing with his teammates kids. He's affable with the media and seemingly carefree. But what's most intriguing about Mallett is that he has grown up professionally as a Patriot, shedding the reputation of knucklehead coming out Arkansas. And with his contract expiring at the end of the 2014 season, his value as an NFL player will continue to be analyzed and scrutinized, particularly during the resume building preseason for backups like him. But that doesn't mean he wants to think about all of that right now.
"I donít," he said. "I live day to day. Iím happy where Iím at right now. Iím having a blast. Iím on a great team. I got a great organization around me. My teammates are awesome. So that doesnít cross my mind. Iím just trying to do whatever I can to help the team every day."
Mallett will have collected a little more than $2.9 million in salary when his contract is up. And despite rumors about him being possibly traded this offseason and the last, he has embodied the lunch pail work ethic the entire team instills. This week, during joint practices with Washington, respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Mallett "popped" and looked like a starting caliber quarterback, something Mallett affirmed he believes to be true.
"I havenít [heard his comments], but Iíve always felt that way about myself because Iím confident in myself," Mallett said. "You know I appreciate his nice words, but Iíve always felt that way."
Mallett came out of college a confident kid. He threw for a school record 62 touchdowns at Arkansas and set a single-season school record for 3,869 passing yards in 2010. He came out of high school a confident kid. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas, which is no small feat. So yeah, he's got that going for him. But he's still riding pine for Brady, which is a quagmire that he won't address because it's not up to him.
"You canít control, what you canít control," he said. "Itís the uncontrollable, you just deal with it."
There's no ill will or animosity there being the backup to Brady. It's just the situation he finds himself in now, excited for a meaningless preseason game because it's another opportunity to show what he can do for an NFL team after this season, his only real shot to compete for a starting job. So for now, he wont' say "why me."
"[There's] no reason for that question," he said. "I was dealt the hand I was dealt, so Iím playing cards now."
Expect Mallett to get the majority of playing time in Thursday's exhibition with Washington at Fedex Field. And expect him to be super focused. His future is counting on it.