FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The only thing more surprising than New England trying to make defensive coaches into offensive coaches last year was the fact that there was a full-blown quarterback controversy unfolding right in front of Bill Belichick. After an impressive rookie season in 2021 by Mac Jones (the No. 15 overall pick in his class), he suddenly found his back against the wall thanks to a fourth-round rookie out of Western Kentucky named Bailey Zappe.
Zappe got his first taste of NFL action in Week 4 against the Packers when Jones was ruled out with an ankle injury and veteran backup Brian Hoyer was sidelined with a concussion he suffered early in the contest. With Jones still sidelined, Zappe started the following two games and led the Patriots to victory in both matchups while completing 74.5% of his passes and registering a 112.5 passer rating. Things reached a fever pitch by the time Jones was ready to re-enter the fold in Week 7 against the Bears on "Monday Night Football." Jones struggled and was then unseated by Zappe in the second quarter and the rookie QB led the Patriots on back-to-back touchdown drives, albeit in a losing effort.
"I looked back at those games a lot this offseason," Zappe told reporters Friday following the Patriots OTA session of his playing experience last season. "Seeing some of the things I did right and some the things I did wrong. You know, fixing the things I did wrong and improving on some of the things I did right, and I think that will carry over for the next few years or however many it is. Just continue to learn from experiences."
Throughout OTAs, the masthead has been clear in regards to New England's QB depth chart: Jones has been taking the starting reps, while Zappe follows up as the backup.
"I'm just taking advantage of every rep I get no matter what group it's with, no matter when it is," Zappe said. "Every rep, to me, I treat like a game rep and I take it with 100% [effort]. Just trying to take it every day, day by day, and just get better."
When asked directly if he is approaching camp as someone who can compete for the starting job or be a complement to an incumbent starter, Zappe said, "I mean just like what Coach Bill [Belichick] said at the beginning of the offseason, everybody's competing for a spot. So that's the way I'm approaching it. Like I said earlier, I'm taking every rep like a game rep, so trying to get better every day."
While Jones and Zappe may have duked it out for a time last season for the QB1 role, the second-year signal-caller said the two have a good relationship and have pushed one another in their development.
"It's been good," Zappe said of his relationship with Jones. "We're teammates. We're together all day, every day in the QB room together. Over these last two years, I think both of us have been able to help each other both get better on and off the field. I've learned a lot from him and hopefully, I'm kind of helping out with him, trying to help him learn some stuff. We're teammates. We want what's best for the team and that's to win."
Given that Jones has taken most, if not all, of the first-team reps, it would seem unlikely that Zappe will be able to turn training camp into a war for the starting job. The young quarterback has already shown, however, that he can pounce when given the opportunity if/when it comes along again.