Danny Etling benefiting from Tom Brady's absence at practice

Exploring some hot topics around the New England Patriots in a mailbag:

Meghan, Danny Etling was the top pick of the seventh round (219th overall) out of Louisiana State, and he's been one of the primary beneficiaries of Tom Brady's absence from voluntary organized team activities. For example, when the team breaks off into two fields, it would usually be Brady on one field with the top personnel and the top backup on the other field. So the third-stringer would usually be getting most of his work at the end of practice in a scout-team type of setting. But with just Brian Hoyer and Etling at practice, they both bump up a spot.

Etling, who measured 6-foot-2½ and 222 pounds at the NFL combine, has shown solid arm strength in the practices I've watched. When I asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick about him Thursday, the response was predictable: "Like all rookies, he has a long way to go." That's true, but it's notable that Etling has the type of traits that the team will want to work with in 2018.

Here a touchdown (and extra point) of things to know about Etling:

  • He turns 24 on July 22, so he's older than most of the top prospects at the position (Sam Darnold, for example, turns 21 on Tuesday). With that age comes a maturity that appealed to the Patriots.

  • A native of Terre Haute, Indiana, he attended Purdue for the first two years of his college career, sat out 2015 due to transfer rules, then played at LSU for two seasons.

  • He ran a 4.76 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which reflects athleticism that puts him in the above-average category among quarterbacks.

  • He threw just two interceptions as a senior at LSU (one was on a Hail Mary), which is the type of decision-making that caught the eye of the Patriots.

  • His work at LSU's pro day also made an impression on the Patriots, as he threw about 150 passes and displayed improved mechanics from working with Tom House's 3DQB company. House is also Brady's throwing coach.

  • He played in four offenses, under four coordinators, and showed adaptability that was noted by New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

  • Etling described his view of the quarterback position this way: "I'm just going to make sure that I always lead the offense, make sure that I'm the CEO when I'm out there on the field and that I'm able to move the chains, get the offense in the right play. Then be accurate with the football, continue to improve always, and just making sure that someway, somehow I'm always doing my job."

Stephen, the Patriots are scheduled to hold their mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday, and owner Robert Kraft said last week that he expects both Brady and Rob Gronkowski to be present. The mandatory minicamp is an extension of what the team has been working on during organized team activities. On Etling, the thing that has stood out to me is arm strength. That is often the first thing that stands out to me when a rookie joins the team; for example, the difference in how he throws an out route might be obvious. But as I watched two practices over the past two weeks, I thought Etling's arm strength was comparable to Hoyer's. I also took note of how he has been one of the first players on the field, and one of the last to leave. While that alone won't earn a roster spot, it could also be viewed as a reflection of his commitment to his craft.

Linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley (fifth round, Purdue) and Christian Sam (sixth round, Arizona State) both showed up in Thursday's practice with pass breakups. As one would expect, they are working with the backups at this time, as the primary linebackers have been the more experienced Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Dont'a Hightower and Marquis Flowers. They are also getting work on special teams, which will be crucial to their chances to earn roster spots. At this point, the most important thing for them is to just keep stacking days on top of each other, learn and process the information, and then show a level of retention during practices. Bentley, in particular, is going to be a player who shows up more when the pads come on because he's known for initiating contact.