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Bishop ready for next move - Patriots QB vies for No. 2 slot

by John McClain

The Houston Chronicle - Tuesday, August 4, 2000


After sitting on the bench and learning as a rookie quarterback with the New England Patriots, Michael Bishop was an ideal candidate to be farmed out to NFL Europe like so many other young, inexperienced players at his position.  After all, the 6-2, 215-pound Bishop, a seventh-round pick from Kansas State, had a howitzer right arm, rare athleticism and a résumé overflowing with records set at his alma mater. Passing on a European vacation was one of the smartest things Bishop has done.

Bill Belichick replacing Pete Carroll as New England's coach meant Bishop would have to learn a new system. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis followed Belichick from the Jets to the Patriots, and the coaches thought it wise Bishop stay home to cram for the 2000 season.

"I'm so glad I stayed," said Bishop, who was born in Galveston, grew up in Willis and went to Blinn College in Brenham before leaving for Kansas State.  "I really like this new system. It's more suited to my ability because it's designed to take advantage of some things that I do well."

Bishop's teammates, the San Francisco 49ers and a national television audience got to see what Bishop can do well Monday when he sparked the Patriots to a 20-0 victory in the AFC-NFC Hall of Fame game at Canton, Ohio.  Replacing starter Drew Bledsoe after one series, Bishop completed nine of 13 for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also ran four times for 50 yards and scored a TD.

"I know I could have hit a couple of my early passes if I'd taken the time to set my feet," Bishop said. "There were some things I wish I could have taken back. There were some other things I wish I could have done. Overall, I was pretty happy with the way I played.

"This is a learning situation for me. I've got to build on that experience and not make the same mistakes."  

The coaches know what Bledsoe can do, so there's no reason to use him more than necessary at this stage of preseason. Besides, the offensive line is in shambles because of injuries, and the coaches don't want to risk losing Bledsoe to an injury.

When the Patriots play at Detroit tonight, Bledsoe will probably play one or two series and be replaced by Bishop and rookie Tom Brady, the sixth-round pick from Michigan.

"Drew's our quarterback, no question about that," Belichick said. "I'm just trying to get a feel for what Michael can do. I don't know what he can do.  That's why he's out there. That goes for everybody."

The coaches, fans and media can't wait to see how Bishop plays with one game under his belt. They expect him to be more confident and comfortable. But because Brady is from Michigan, he'll see more playing time after Bishop.  "They (the coaches) said they wanted to see what we could do," Brady said.  "It was good for both of us to have the opportunity to get our feet wet."  For the second straight game, veteran backup quarterback John Friesz won't play. He reported out of shape and failed to complete Belichick's conditioning run in camp. He's been in the doghouse ever since.

"We made this decision going into camp," Belichick said. "I've talked to John. He knows this is what we have to do to look at these young players. We were going to do the same thing with the offensive line, but it ended up that we didn't have the choice."

The feeling in New England is that no matter how well Bishop plays, there's no way the coaches will allow him to be the backup behind Bledsoe. The thinking is Bishop and Brady have no playing experience, and it would be dangerous to enter the season with no experience at the No. 2 position.  The fans want the popular but erratic Bishop to be the backup. Sports talk shows are ripe with Bishop backers who love his attitude, his arm and his running ability.

"I'm glad they seem to like me, but I can't let that affect what I do,"  Bishop said. "I have to keep working hard and learning the system and trying to eliminate my mistakes.

"I know I can do better than (49ers game)."

The San Francisco game showed everything that is good and bad about Bishop.  Weis has plays specifically designed for Bishop -- rollouts, sprint-outs and the option. Weis wants to capitalize on what Bishop does best -- throw on the run, improvise, run and move around to buy time for receivers to get open.

The coaches were happy with the way Bishop ran the two-minute offense. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass in the two-minute drill. He scored on a 22-yard run off an option play. Opponents don't have to worry about Bledsoe or Friesz running the option.

But Bishop also overthrew receivers and left the pocket before making all his reads. As the coaches have pointed out, he's a work in progress.  "I thought Michael did some good things," Belichick said. "He had some things he could have done better. This is the first time I've been with him.  He's making some progress. There are still a few things he needs to work on.  Overall, our third-down passing and third-down conversions weren't what we'd  like to see.

"Obviously, he made some good, smart plays and he missed some things that we've been over and he shouldn't have missed."

Belichick wasn't happy with the Patriots' red-zone offense. Bishop misfired on two passes that should have been touchdowns, causing his coach to say they "laid an egg" in the red zone.

"It doesn't do any good to drive a 450-yard par-4 and then three-putt,"  Belichick said.

When he worked under Bill Parcells with the Jets, Belichick watched quarterback Ray Lucas come off the bench to play in certain situations that were supposed to take advantage of his strengths. Don't count on that happening with Bishop.

"In some respects, it can be as confusing for your own team as well as your opponents," Belichick said.


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