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Why are the Patriots looking at QBs?

Johnny Manziel passed for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns last season at Texas A&M.

AP

Johnny Manziel passed for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns last season at Texas A&M.

FOXBOROUGH — Devin McCourty did not have an official visit with the Patriots before he was drafted in 2010. Nate Solder had one scheduled before the 2011 draft, but the Patriots canceled it the day before.

Yet the Patriots still chose both players in the first round.

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“Any interest they had was really discreet,” Solder said Wednesday.

So who knows what to make of two star quarterbacks — Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater — both expected to be drafted high in the first round, taking official visits to see the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday.

It’s pretty unlikely either player will wind up with the Patriots this year. That Tom Brady guy is still firmly entrenched as the starter, and despite wide-ranging opinions of Manziel and Bridgewater as prospects among talent evaluators, both quarterbacks are expected to be drafted long before the Patriots pick at No. 29.

So what are the Patriots up to?

It’s possible they’re starting to prepare for life after Brady and are considering a trade-up in the draft to take one of the top young quarterbacks.

But the most plausible explanation is that Bill Belichick and his staff simply want to get a read on the next crop of young quarterbacks to enter the league. They also reportedly met with Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, the other candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, last week in Orlando when the staff was in town for the NFL owners meetings. The Patriots face two teams with top-10 picks this season – Minnesota and Oakland.

Wednesday’s visits, however, had nothing to do with on-field performance. It was all about getting to know each player off the field, both personally and mentally.

The NFL has specific rules for pre-draft visits, as confirmed by an NFL spokesman:

 Each team can have a maximum of 30 player visits. Manziel and Bridgewater are reportedly the Patriots’ first two.

 Teams can conduct one-day physical examinations, interviews, and written tests with the prospect during the visit.

 The players cannot be timed and tested, or do position-specific drills on the field.

Johnny Football didn’t get to showcase his rare athleticism, and Bridgewater couldn’t show off his big arm.

Instead the day is filled mostly with meetings, medical checks and perhaps tests in the film room and on the chalkboard, to see how these quarterbacks think and process information and understand the X’s and O’s of football. The Patriots also observe their demeanor — how they interact in meetings, react to criticism in film study, perform on a written test under pressure, and so on. Belichick may not face these players for two or three seasons, but the visits offered a good opportunity to get a baseline scouting evaluation on each player.

“You just come in, talk to a bunch of guys on the staff on whatever side of the football you play on, special teams, just really a get-to-know-you,” said McCourty, speaking before a community event at the Greater Boston Food Bank. “It’s so fast. You’re at the facility for a couple hours, then you jump on a plane and go back home. It was almost like a recruiting visit — they just brought you in, spoke to you for a little while and that was really it. Not a big deal.”

Sometimes the Patriots draft players they bring in on official visits, and sometimes they don’t. It’s impossible to know the Patriots’ plans unless you’re in the draft meetings with Belichick and staff.

“I went on a lot of visits, and none of those teams drafted me,” McCourty said. “One thing I know is the Patriots are always doing anything they can do to try to get better. I’m sure there’s some plan, or something going on.”

.   .   .

McCourty, coming off his fourth season and first full one at safety, said he is excited about the Patriots’ free agency haul and playing with new teammates Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. McCourty said he hasn’t spoken with Revis and Browner yet, but is looking forward to getting on the field with them when the offseason program begins April 21.

But there will be no “Dream Team” proclamations from McCourty or his Patriots teammates this offseason, like the Eagles made after their free agent haul in 2011.

“I can’t wait until we get back and start working together, and what looks good on paper, trying to get it playing well on the field,” McCourty said. “We know it’s going to take a lot of hard work going into this season, no matter who’s on your team, it’s always tough to play well.”

McCourty was speaking at the launch of the Great American Milk Drive, in which people are encouraged to donate milk to a food bank instead of normal pantry foods. Donations can be made at Milklife.com/give.

“We’ve donated so many things growing up,” he said. “You never really think about how important it is for kids to get milk.”

McCourty said he expects to see some changes in the secondary next year — strong safety Steve Gregory was cut, and Logan Ryan has been rumored to be switching from cornerback to safety — but he doesn’t know what will happen.

“It seems like there’s always some changes with what we’re going to do,” he said. “Hopefully it’s done early and we can focus on that, but I don’t know.”

.   .   .

Solder, speaking at a premier of the movie “Draft Day,” said he has done a better job of staying in shape this offseason than in years past, and that he and the rest of the offensive line will miss former coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired in January after 30 years with the team.

“I think it is a big loss. He was so much a part of the team,” Solder said. “I got a chance to say goodbye to him, and I don’t think our relationship is over by any means, I think he’ll still be around.”

“He was so critical for me and my game just because he didn’t take anything for granted,” Solder added. “He was always good at picking out things that I need work on and things that will make me a better player, and that’s not always the case with every coach. And he had a really good eye for that, and he was really demanding with exactly what I needed to become a better player.”

Solder was wearing a T-shirt commemorating the Patriots’ AFC East title in 2013.

“We definitely have our sights a lot higher than this,” said Solder, who added that the sting of the AFC Championship Game loss to Denver hasn’t worn off yet. “I don’t think it ever does. I think that’s what makes you have drive for the next season.”

Follow Ben Volin on Twitter at @BenVolin.
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