National Football League
QB3? Drake Maye seems to have a long journey to winning starting job
National Football League

QB3? Drake Maye seems to have a long journey to winning starting job

Updated May. 21, 2024 10:50 a.m. ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Drake Maye must have been itching to throw the football after the New England Patriots' OTA session on Monday. And so that's exactly what he did, finally. After the team ran sprints to conclude their practice, the rookie quarterback put in extra work throwing against air with his fellow 2024 draft selections, Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker

They were the last three Patriots to leave the field.

Maye didn't get many opportunities to work with the offense during practice. He spent most of the session, particularly in the early periods, watching Jacoby Brissett and Bailey Zappe run 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills with the top offensive players. 

Maye paced back and forth to see different angles of the offensive plays. He occasionally went through his steps to take mental reps and mirrored the quarterback movement. But for the most part, he just stood there picking the brain of his two primary mentors: assistant quarterbacks coach Evan Rothstein, donning a blue Patriots visor to match his blue tracksuit, and offensive assistant Ben McAdoo, sweating into his Patriots camouflage hat and white towel draped over his grey t-shirt. 


Maye's braintrust is a bit of the old, Belichickian regime (Rothstein) and the new, Alex Van Peltian regime (McAdoo). But the decision to largely hold him out of the team drills felt a bit more Belichickian than anything. It looked like a narrative signal to Maye and, likely, the media.

The message: He's not playing. He's watching. He's learning. And he's really not playing.

The Patriots have been consistent in telling the media and Maye that he won't come in as the starter. He'll have to beat out Brissett for QB1. It felt likely he'd start the offseason as QB2. But Maye seemed to be the third QB on the depth chart for Monday's session. For team drills, especially in the early periods, the QB rotation often went: Brissett, Zappe, Brissett, Maye.

"It's really not about how many reps here and there, it's about the quality of the reps that you get. That's what I preach," Patriots coach Jerod Mayo said before practice.

He added that Monday's rep distribution wasn't necessarily indicative of how the breakdown of reps will be for the other sessions. 

But they were a choice.

Maye has very clearly gotten the message. He seemed to say very little to anyone during practice. He did some chit-chatting with Rhamondre Stevenson during warmups. He congratulated rookie tight end Jaheim Bell after a catch. But for the most part, Maye asked questions of Brissett, Rothstein and McDoo. The rookie just shut up and listened.

Will the Patriots sit Drake Maye in favor of Jacoby Brissett?

That felt resonant with another thing Mayo said before practice. The coach was asked about when he came to take a leadership role during his rookie season as a Patriots linebacker in 2008.

"Honestly, that narrative of me coming in as a leader my first year is kind of off, in my opinion," Mayo said. "My big thing was to be a sponge, learn from the Mike Vrabels, the Tom Bradys, the Randy Moss's of the world."

Maye looked mighty retentive on Monday.

And behind the scenes, it's clear he's doing the exact same thing.

"I walked by the quarterback meeting room, he's just in there by himself, watching film," Mayo said. "Those are the things that you want to see. I am excited to see his growth going forward."

Of course, the Patriots won't see as much growth going forward if he is splitting reps with Zappe, who is unlikely to be on the roster in Week 1.

During the warmup phase, Maye threw just about every route in the playbook and hit receivers in-stride. But that was against air. No defense. No offensive line. No pocket. That's an easy A for Maye, who boasted one of the best arms in the 2024 NFL Draft. The questions around Maye were more about how he'd handle an NFL pocket, how he'd adjust his footwork, how he'd read an NFL defense, how he'd manage an NFL playbook and whether he could elevate a Patriots offense that's short on talent.

The Patriots didn't seem to get closer to answering those questions after Day 1 of OTAs. That's OK. It's so, so, so early. They didn't need those answers. Even so, it's fair to wonder why Zappe is getting more work than the No. 3 overall pick, even at this phase of the offseason — even if it's intended to send a message. There are only so many on-field hours before the season starts, because of the CBA. There are only so many snaps to teach Maye the offense. While the Patriots have said they don't intend to rush Maye into a starting role, it's strange to see them holding him off the field.

"He is learning a new playbook. He is learning a new language, he is learning his teammates, he's learning the fundamentals that we preach here," Mayo said before practice. "So, it's a lot for him, but at the same time, I know he can handle it and I just look forward to seeing him progress."

For what it's worth, Maye never looked out beyond his depth. The rookie was ready to compete. He had just one incompletion on his seven passes during practice. In a mucky pocket during an 11-on-11 rep, he managed to rip the ball to the sideline to find receiver T.J. Luther on an out-route — a nice display of Maye's throwing accuracy and power. There weren't any wow plays. There weren't any oh-no plays.

Whether Maye or Brissett start at QB in Week 1, there's no doubt the Patriots are in for a rebuilding year. Even JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is entering his eighth season, seemed to recognize that.

"We drafted a quarterback, and it all falls on Drake on how he takes it. If he can get up and play a part, then for sure that's what he's going to do. And if it's a development [year], it's a development [year]," Smith-Schuster said after practice. "At the end of the day, he's going to do his part. And you're going to see him progress over a period of time in OTAs, in training camp. And you never know. I think it's too early to speak on that."

There was one proclamation Smith-Schuster was willing to make.

"Wait 'til you see the locker room. The vibes are way better," he said.

Mayo reminded the media the Patriots are 0-0 so far this year. No success. No adversity. Yet. 

But that's a world better than 3-14, their record that led them to fire Bill Belichick, hire Mayo, trade Mac Jones, sign Brissett and draft Maye. It's just the beginning for the 2024 Patriots, and while they are reluctant to push Maye into the fire of competition, it's unlikely they'll be able to hold him back forever. He is their future. The present, with Brissett, doesn't figure to last long — even if Patriots' leadership seems to want to prolong it.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more