The New England arms race is on.
The Patriots have started organized team activities, giving the staff a chance to get a deeper look at where they stand with their young gun quarterbacks, Danny Etling and rookie Jarrett Stidham.
With Tom Brady not expected to step on the fields of Foxborough until minicamp next month, the snaps during the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work will be divided three ways among Brian Hoyer, Etling, and Stidham.
Hoyer is a seasoned, steady veteran with a solid grasp of the offense. He can run the offense in a pinch — he has 37 career starts under his belt — and has drawn rave reviews for his work running the scout team.
The 11-year veteran, who is well-respected by his coaches and teammates, is a known commodity.
Etling and Stidham would do well to watch and learn from Hoyer, who started his NFL career in similar fashion. He arrived in New England as a little-known rookie in 2009 and thrived in Brady’s shadow, earning a spot as his understudy for three seasons.
The competition between Etling and Stidham could be for a roster spot (will the Patriots keep three quarterbacks?) or it could be for even more (could a strong showing in the summer vault either into the No. 2 job?).
Etling seemingly would have a leg up in the competition after spending a year in the system as a practice-squad player. He was at every on-field workout and was able to spend countless hours watching film and soaking up knowledge from Brady and Hoyer in the quarterbacks room.
He made steady progress throughout training camp and capped the preseason with a memorable 86-yard touchdown run off a naked bootleg against the Giants.
It’s difficult to measure how much progress Etling made over the course of his rookie season, but the fact that he spent game days on the sideline, traveled with the team, and that he was re-signed quickly after the Super Bowl offers clues as to how highly people around the organization think of the seventh-round pick.
“He does some things for us during the game and I also think there’s an opportunity for him to learn and see things at real game speed and live action and the way they happen in the game, the way we have to play the game,’’ Bill Belichick said last October.
“We talk about a lot of things in meetings about how we’re going to do this or how we’re going to do that, but sometimes in game situations it plays out a little bit differently for one reason or another, or things get changed for one reason or another. Just having a full understanding of the process, I think, is good experience for players at that position.’’
Like Etling, Stidham comes from an SEC powerhouse after transferring from his original school. Etling finished at LSU after starting at Purdue, while Stidham wrapped up his collegiate career at Auburn after a run at Baylor.
Both players’ ability to adapt to and thrive in different offenses likely is a reason the Patriots liked their chances to excel at the next level.
Stidham was a guy on the Patriots’ radar for a while. He met with a scout from New England at the Senior Bowl, then had a lengthy one-on-one meeting with director of player personnel Nick Caserio before his Pro Day. He also took a pre-draft visit to New England, where he really got a look behind the curtain, meeting with Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“I loved it,’’ Stidham said. “We sat there and went through some of their offensive systems that morning, and just to dive into an NFL playbook that is so successful, I had a lot of fun with it.
“Obviously there’s a lot of things that I’m going to have to learn moving forward, but I’m with Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling. Those are three guys that have a lot of knowledge and I’m going to be able to sit there and soak up everything from those guys and learn a lot and hopefully play at a high level.’’
McDaniels clearly has been impressed in his limited dealings with Stidham.
“He’s a very consistent guy, smart, good personality,’’ McDaniels said last week. “He asks good questions, has a mind for football. He’s a sponge right now, trying to soak up everything he can.
“He has a good demeanor and I’m actually looking forward to getting out there and having an opportunity to work with him actually playing the position.’’
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The Patriots added depth (and girth) to the defensive line by re-signing Danny Shelton. Terms of the contract were not announced.
Shelton, listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 345 pounds, was a first-round pick by the Browns in 2015. He came over in a trade in March 2018. He played in 13 regular-season games and two more in the postseason — making two tackles in Super Bowl LIII.