- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Peyton Manning's unique style of checking in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage, and how difficult it is to simulate for opponents, was highlighted by Bill Belichick's choice of game-ball performers following the 2003 AFC Championship Game.
"I thought one of the most valuable players in the game for us didn't play, and that was Damon Huard," Belichick said in the opening remarks of his postgame news conference that day. "I thought the look he gave us in the scout team for our defense was fabulous."
This week, that responsibility has fallen to second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett.
"It's been fun. You just have to go out there and play ball, make checks, and try to do it like Peyton does it, and try to give a good look," Mallett said Friday. "Obviously I've watched him forever growing up, so I just try to take some of his characteristics and move them on to the field."
Some of Mallett's teammates, while appreciating his work, have also delivered some good-natured ribbing.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington joked that Mallett has been making so many checks at the line of scrimmage that the play clock ran out ... twice.
"It's like a 60-second play clock out there," added defensive end Rob Ninkovich, playing along with the humor. "There were a few plays where it's like 'What's he checking this to? What's he checking it back to?' But in all seriousness, he gives us a good look."
And in all seriousness, Mallett said there is no play clock.
"We react off what he does, and he reacts off what we show," veteran linebacker Tracy White said. "He's mimicking what Peyton Manning does and how he checks out of things based on what he sees because they give him a lot of freedom. It's helping us out a lot and he's running it pretty well."
For Mallett, an accomplished passer at Arkansas who slipped to the third round of the 2011 draft, it's not exactly the job he hopes to be carrying out long-term. But after beating out four-year veteran Brian Hoyer for the No. 2 spot on the quarterback depth chart in training camp, and with the Patriots deciding to only carry two signal-callers on their roster and practice squad, he was the only choice.
"It's not different. I'm just trying to do my job," said Mallett, who totaled 8,385 yards, 69 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in college. "I just go out there and try to execute what look we want to give. It could mean audibling, getting into a good play, moving the offense, just trying to do the right thing."
In a sense, the job has taken him back to his early years at Arkansas.
"The first thing about Ryan is that he's a competitor; he always has been. It's funny, when he transferred from Michigan to Arkansas, he ran the scout team against the first-team defense his first year when he was ineligible," said rookie defensive end Jake Bequette, who also played at Arkansas.
"We always joked that he was the toughest quarterback we were going to face all season. He was so tough and competitive in that scout-team mode and you see that week in and week out here. Obviously he's doing a good job of simulating what we think the Broncos are going to do. They run a scheme that has a lot of at-the-line-of-scrimmage checks and he's given us a good look."
Right down to the tale of the tape, as Mallett is 6-foot-6 and Manning 6-5.
"He has the height thing down, I think," cracked Ninkovich, before turning serious on the value of the role.
"Obviously, it's hard to run a no-huddle offense with a scout team, but he's doing the best he can as far as that situation, when trying to mimic one of the best quarterbacks ever.
"The closest you can get simulation to the game is going to help you. Every week, you try to get the best scout-team look you can. It definitely helps. Whenever we're playing a shifty quarterback, they'll put Julian [Edelman] back there to run around. They always have something to prepare us."
Mallett is a big part of the preparation this week, and if things go as the Patriots hope, he just might have a Huard-type game ball in his future.
Ryan Mallett is impersonating Peyton Manning to help the Patriots' D prepare.