The quarterback battle entering New England Patriots training camp likely will come down to Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, but they aren't the only players at the position currently on the team's roster.
The Patriots also signed two undrafted free agent quarterbacks -- J'Mar Smith from Louisiana Tech and Brian Lewerke from Michigan State. Most undrafted free agents don't make the final 53-man roster, and if they do, these players rarely make a meaningful impact each week. However, the Patriots have enjoyed more success than most teams with undrafted free agents, and recent examples include cornerback J.C. Jackson, cornerback Malcolm Butler, center David Andrews and defensive lineman Adam Butler.
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Smith is an exciting player to watch as training camp and the preseason near.
Louisiana Tech's offense is built on speed and space, including the RPO plays often seen at the pro level. Smith was an excellent fit for that offense, and his head coach at Louisiana Tech, Skip Holtz, recently joined our Patriots insider Phil Perry on the Next Pats Podcast to discuss what Smith can bring to New England's quarterback room.
"I think physically he can make all the throws," Holtz said. "We had a very extensive screen package, a lot of plays where the ball was getting out of his hands in a hurry. A lot of RPO options where he had the option to put a player in conflict and make some decisions and reads, but we also ran quite a bit of drop back passing. Just being able to take the checkdown and taking what the defense gives you."
One area where Smith grew tremendously throughout his college career was the mental aspect of the game, which is so important for a quarterback, especially at the pro level when the defensive schemes are more complex and the overall speed of play goes up several levels.
"J'Mar has got a lot of experience. He's got three years of being a starter under his belt," Holtz said. "Where J'Mar was as a freshman and a redshirt sophomore as a young player, I think J'Mar has always had the physical skills, and as I said earlier, he's really honed his passing ability. I think where he's grown the most is just mentally. As a quarterback, he knows what everybody on the field is doing. I felt very comfortable if we ever got into a situation where we were struggling, that we could put the ball in J'Mar's hands, get in empty (formation), and let him distribute the ball."
Being able to read coverages, scan the field and make decisions on the fly are other important facets of a quarterback's job, and they also are areas in which Smith showed encouraging progress over the last few years at Louisiana Tech.
"He was changing protections, he was turning the (o-line) one way or another, he was reading left field to right -- scanning the entire field, he wasn't in a one side of the field offense. ... I was just really proud of his growth and development mentally with how far he's come," Holtz said.
Smith is still a long shot to make the roster, but he does deserve an opportunity based on his skill set and the improvement he showed for Louisiana Tech last season.
Next Pats Podcast: Could J'Mar Smith be Patriots' next undrafted gem? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston