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Countdown to Patriots Camp: Quarterback

07.22.12 at 8:55 pm ET
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Quarterback Tom Brady will start his 13th training camp as a pro this week. (AP)

In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We start our previews with a breakdown of the quarterback position.

Roster: Tom Brady (in 2011, Brady was 401-for-611 for 64 percent, to go along with 5,235 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Brian Hoyer (1-for-1 for 22 yards), Ryan Mallett.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Barring injury, Brady will start every game, and take at least 95 percent of the possible snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, no other quarterback in the league took more snaps than Brady in 2011, and that should be the case again in 2012.

2. Even with Brady set to turn 35 before the start of the 2012 season, considering the wealth of talent he’s been surrounded with, he has to be on the short list when it comes to preseason picks for MVP.

3. The Patriots offense won’t look dramatically different under Josh McDaniels as opposed to Bill O’Brien. The change in offensive coordinators is a change, but it won’t make for a colossal difference. Let’s be honest: while OC’s have come and gone over the years, the ultimate decision maker is Brady: If you get open, he’ll throw you the ball.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. What’s the limit for Brady and the offense? The passing game won’t likely reach 2007 levels (50 touchdown passes, 69 percent completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 117, all career highs for Brady, all while averaging 41 points per game), but they might not be that far off. Brady has Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch and others at receiver, while Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez remain the best young tight end duo in the league.

2. Who backs up Brady? At this point, it’s Hoyer. Mallett is coming off what is essentially a rookie redshirt season, as he spent the year acclimating himself to life in the NFL. In the spring, he certainly showed improvement in some areas (particularly his footwork, a major offseason point of emphasis), but right now, Hoyer is still the No. 2.

3. Will this be Hoyer’s final year in New England? The Michigan State product will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and while he’s tough to read because he’s never taken a truly meaningful snap during the regular season, many NFL people believe he’s farther along at this stage of his career than Matt Cassel was. With that in mind — and taking into account the market for quarterbacks, as well as Brady’s desire to play until he’s 40 — it’s reasonable to think Hoyer will be elsewhere next season.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Over the last two seasons, Brady’s interception percentage in “late and close” situations (fourth quarter; score within seven points either way) is 5.1 percent (six interceptions in 117 attempts). Only Rex Grossman (5.8 percent) has thrown a higher percentage of interceptions during “crunch time” in that span (min. 100 such attempts).

• Over the last three seasons, Brady has thrown for 232 first downs on first-down pass attempts, the most in the NFL in that span.

• Brady threw for 1,440 yards in the third quarter last season, the second most such yards in a single season in the 21 years that they’ve tracked the stat. Only Kurt Warner of the 2008 Cardinals (1,459) had more.

The skinny: Quarterback has been the great constant of New England’s run of success, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be again in 2012. If Kevin Faulk doesn’t make the team, Brady will be attempting to win his fourth Super Bowl with a completely new cast around him from his first title, something that would certainly separate him from the rest of the quarterbacks who inhabit the same rarified air as the Patriots’ signal-caller. Even with him turning 35 (and losing his longtime mentor Tom Martinez this past offseason), barring injury, there’s no reason to think that Brady won’t be able to put together a typical Brady sort of season, and be at the center of any offensive success the Patriots have in 2012.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Countdown to Camp, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady
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