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Bishop can show what he's got

by Kevin Mannix

The Boston Herald - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

There is finally a reason to watch non-NFL, out-of-season football, and it has nothing to do with the backs of the players or the fronts of the cheerleaders.  The interest has nothing at all to do with the XFL, or anything else played in America. The football attraction will be played in Scotland, Germany, Spain and Amsterdam by teams being sponsored by NFL Europe, a six-team league of NFL wannabes playing a 10-game regular season.

Why the sudden interest in a league that has plodded along in relative obscurity the last half-dozen years?  Because now it includes Michael Bishop, the untested, intriguing, exciting, potentially productive Patriots quarterback with the great college stats, the five-star, preseason rookie debut followed by two regular seasons of invisibility. Some think all he needs is a chance to run a real offense to blossom into a legitimate NFL quarterback. Others put him in the cubbyhole reserved for undisciplined, seventh-round draft picks who created an artificial level of interest/anticipation on the strength of three games against third-string defenders.

This excursion to Europe won't answer all the questions about Bishop's future role with the Patriots or with the NFL in general. In fact, the competition won't be all that different from the third-stringers he exploited that summer of '99.  Nor will his performance answer all the questions his coaches have. But it will be a start. He'll be in game situations with full game plans against professional athletes on a regular basis. If he can repeat his 1999 performances, it will be enough to maintain the interest of Patriots fans.

Given the ordinarily coma-inducing effect of fourth-quarter preseason football, Bishop created excitement back then. Watching him making plays, you rooted for overtime, ordinarily the last option in a preseason game.   That's how much fun Bishop was. He'd scramble around behind a terrible offensive line, making defenders miss tackle attempts while waiting for Sean Morey or another reserve receiver to come open. Then he'd deliver the ball perfectly.  That's the kind of game we'd like to think he could provide regularly, although that's hardly what we saw of his preseason a year ago and during cameo appearances in the regular season.

The Patriots coaches will look for indications that Bishop is talented and dedicated enough to be a legitimate NFL factor. This will be Bishop's third year as a professional. It's time for him to show whether the real Michael Bishop was the quarterback who was the Heisman runner-up or the player who wasn't drafted until the seventh round.

NFL Europe isn't major league football, but it has served as a legitimate developmental league for current NFL starting quarterbacks. The early NFL days of people like Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, Scott Mitchell and John Kitna were relatively nondescript and uneventful.  Still, in the relaxed yet competitive mode of NFL Europe/World League, those four and other players honed their quarterbacking skills and returned to the NFL ready to compete for starting jobs. They used the experience not as a vacation but as a training ground to develop their games.  That's the kind of thing Bishop has to do. He didn't get the best hand from the Patriots coaches a year ago. They enforced serious restrictions in terms of what he could do when he got onto the field. But he also misplayed the hand he was dealt, making bad decisions and bad reads.  The physical skill is there. He is athletic. He does throw the ball very well on the run. He's got a very strong arm. We know those things already.  Now he's got to prove that he has the overall grasp of being a quarterback,  not just a good athlete with a great arm. Europe isn't the best test of thatbut it's what Bishop has in front of him.

Now it's up to him.


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