FOXBORO, MA — It remains to be seen when Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe will return to the line-up, but when the time comes it appears that head coach Bill Belichick may have a difficult decision to make.
It’s all going to come down to how quarterback Tom Brady plays over the next several weeks. Bledsoe was finally cleared by doctors to begin working out by riding the exercise bike and doing some light throwing this week, and it appears he’s making progress toward an eventual return to the football field. When his body (which has lost 15 pounds since he took that vicious hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis) is finally again ready to begin taking hits from 300 pound players, it’s hard to say whether or not Belichick will immediately return him to his rightful position on the field.
Belichick said on Thursday that he and his coaching staff don’t have a rule that says a player can’t lose his job because of injury. He basically said that he and his coaches will always play the best players. For now he says he’s just trying to get Bledsoe ready to play.
“I have never laid down any rules [about injuries],” said Belichick. “What I tell the players and I have told them this since the day I have gotten here and I will continue to tell them, the best players are going to play. It is not about coaches decisions, coaches decisions are easy, put them on the field and let them play. The best guys play more, the guys that don’t play as well play less. That is the way I feel about it.”
“I am not partial to anybody other than whoever the best guy is. That is who I think deserves to play. But in a situation where an established player is coming back after he has missed some time, you have to wait and see where he is when he is comes back. At what point he is at 50 percent, 60 percent, 70, 80, 90 and so forth down the line. Right now we are way off of that evaluation. We are just trying to get him back on the field.”
As for Bledsoe he told reporters on Wednesday that he expects to be the starter when he returns, but doesn’t expect to simply have it handed back to him. To be the starting quarterback in the NFL Bledsoe is aware that a player has to earn that right to lead a football team, and is glad that he has a teammate like Brady to challenge him.
“I feel I’ll be the starter for as long as I’m here but at the same time [the right to be the starting quarterback is] not just given to somebody,” said Bledsoe. “I feel the situation is clear to me and to Tom how it works but as long as we’re here, I’d expect him to push me for my spot.”
“Tom is probably the best guy who’s been behind me here. No discredit to Zo [Scott Zolak] or John Friesz, but he’s a guy who’ll drive me to continue to progress.”
“It’s not frustrating [to hear discussion of Brady’s success],” Bledsoe continued. “Not one bit. Of Tom Brady’s fans, I’m at the top of the list. He’s played very well. I wouldn’t take anything away from him. He’s played the way I expected.”
Despite all the “quarterback controversy” talk that has been discussed since Brady initially took over as the interim starter for the team, Bledsoe has continued to help Brady as much as he could, especially during the San Diego game last Sunday. Former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan knows first hand how important it is to have that type of cooperation between two players, and said it shows a lot about Bledsoe’s character.
“You have to have that kind of cooperation, especially with a young quarterback,” said Grogan. “It shows a lot about Drew Bledsoe that he is not the prima donna that some people think he is.”
“Some players would be off on the sidelines saying ‘I hope this guy fails because it is my job when he comes out.’ But he is right in there helping him and that tells me a lot about the character of Drew Bledsoe.”
For now Brady is the starter until Bledsoe is truly ready to make a run toward a return to the field. Until that time comes Belichick says he doesn’t even want to discuss the future.
“When Drew is back to 100 percent we will deal with that then, but we are a long way away from that now,” said Belichick. “The next step for Drew is to be able to resume moderate physical activity to heavy physical activity to regaining his skills at the position and being the third quarterback.”
“Those are the next steps in the future. Until they happen I think it is way premature to talk about anything else.”