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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t exactly a chatty guy. He tries to say as little as possible when dealing with the media, even when obligated.
Belichick doesn’t suffer fools, and 35-some years ago he no doubt nodded in agreement with Spiro Agnew when the then-vice president defended the Nixon Administration with his famous quote attacking “nattering nabobs of negativity.”
But Kevin O’Connell, the Patriots rookie quarterback from San Diego State, was a subject Belichick didn’t mind expanding upon just a few days before the Patriots’ nationally televised game against the Chargers Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
The question was about how well O’Connell, a third-round draft pick, was prepared for the NFL. Belichick’s lengthy answer amounted to a filibuster.
“Kevin had had a lot of experience in the passing game, and I think that was certainly to his benefit,” Belichick said. “Four years of a lot of passes in a passing league. Most of those, however, were in the shotgun.
“Kevin has had to work on the transition from always being in the shotgun to just being in the shotgun a small percentage of the time, getting his mechanics and footwork under center, play-action and things like that which are considerably different reading it from there than it is from six yards from the line of scrimmage, drop back passes all the time, throwing different types of routes.
“It’s a different offense, different throwing mechanics, different ball handling, a little different way of reading defenses. But he’s made good progress and Kevin has worked hard at it. He’s a smart kid. He’s picked things up pretty quickly the things that are new to him. He’s coming along.”
On Sunday, O’Connell will dress in his old locker room — NFL visiting teams use the Aztecs’ locker room at Qualcomm — and trot out onto his home field the last four years.
The difference will be he’s wearing a blue and silver Patriots jersey with No. 5 instead of his familiar red and black No. 7.
“It’s interesting; I never thought about coming back to this stadium as a member of the Patriots playing against the Chargers,” O’Connell said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
O’Connell was supposed to spend his rookie year as the No. 3 quarterback learning from a future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady. But a knee injury that ended Brady’s season in the opener has O’Connell one snap from taking over as New England’s No. 2.
It says much about the Patriots’ confidence in O’Connell that they didn’t go out and sign a veteran quarterback to back up Matt Cassell, the new starter. Second-year pro Matt Gutierrez, who was let go after training camp, was re-signed as the No. 3 quarterback.
“I was looking forward to watching Tom play and watching him take me through a week, Monday through Sunday,” O’Connell said. “Now I’m enjoying watching Matt in the role of leading the team. The main thing for me is to get acclimated as much as I can with what we do.”
O’Connell made his NFL debut in the Patriots’ third game, a 38-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins. He came in late in the game was 3-of-4 for 25 yards without needing to test his running ability against NFL speed.
“I was happy with the way I played, but I definitely have a lot to work on,” O’Connell said. “Things can get going very fast. There are so many things going on for every snap and you have to have a good mindset for knowing what you’re doing.”
O’Connell was home for an Aztecs game two weeks ago when the Patriots had a bye, and he was invited to take part in the coin toss before San Diego State’s win over Idaho at Qualcomm.
“I’ve been able to keep in touch, and I was excited with how they played well early this year,” O’Connell said. “They could have come out of it 3-1. For the most part, they’re still a young team, but I think they can surprise some people before the year is over.”
As a Patriot, O’Connell returns home with a team Chargers’ fans have learned to hate the last two seasons, but he says he has confidence in San Diego sports fans.
“I think I’ve been around the city long enough that some Chargers fans will have a soft spot for me,” O’Connell said. “I’m sure there will be a chorus of boos for the uniform, but I’ll have plenty of family and friends there.”
If Belichick likes O’Connell enough to offer a lengthy quote to the San Diego media, then we can expect that this won’t be his last homecoming in a Patriots uniform.