A frustrating start to first NFL camp for 7th-round QB Etling


FOXBORO - Before we get to the football stuff, know this: Danny Etling is a huge Larry Bird fan, having grown up in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

“Oh, no question,” said Etling. “How can you not be?”

That’s the kind of smart decision a good quarterback makes. And Etling proved to be a sound one at LSU, throwing just two interceptions for the Tigers in his final season. His transition to the pro game though has been far more challenging.

“Nothing really prepares you for the NFL like just going through it, and getting thrown in the deep end and just doing it,” said Etling. “There are no shortcuts.”

The seventh-rounder has been willing to put in the time. He's often the first out to the practice field and the last to leave. But that hasn’t translated into a ton of success when Etling’s gotten reps. He’s been wildly inaccurate at times, missing throws I’ve seen him make at LSU. Needless to say, it’s left the affable youngster kicking himself in the arse on more than one occasion.


“Yes,” he emoted, smiling and shaking his head. “It’s the most frustrating thing of learning a new system and being in a new place is that you don’t play near to the potential that you originally have set standards for yourself. But when you’re unsure and you’re not playing very sure, not attacking things and you’re more on the defensive and trying to just learn everything, you’re not going to play as well."

“And that’s the hardest part of it is getting through that portion of it, working as hard as you can, not losing confidence and then taking the next step. Once you’ve grasped the offense, once you understand everything, it's like, ‘Okay, I can make a 5-yard flat throw. I can make a 10-yard out throw.’ You can do all those things.”

If you can’t be accurate in this system - hell, any system - you won’t make it in the NFL as a quarterback unless you run it like Michael Vick did back in the day. Etling isn’t that kind of athlete but he is considered by those in the organization as having the tools to be successful in the short to mid-range passing game, with an arm good enough to push the ball down the field (though he’s considered a below-average deep ball thrower). So, are there things that he can do to at least tighten up what was thought to be a strength coming out of college? Bill Belichick thinks everyone can improve at every thing.

“...that varies from individual to individual. But, assuming that they understand what they need to do or mechanically how to do it and work at it and try to address it, then you’re going to see improvement,” Belichick said. “So, the rate of improvement is not always a straight line. Sometimes it starts off slow and spikes up. Sometimes it starts fast and levels off. Sometimes it’s more of a gradual straight line. At some point, it’s going to level off where everybody’s going to pretty much peak somewhere.”

When they reach that peak, then what?

“Once a player has reached that plateau, then you evaluate how good it is,” added Belichick. “If it’s great, then great. If it’s average or in that range, then you try to maintain it. Then maybe at some point somebody would pass that. If it’s below average, then probably another player at some point would be able to come in and surpass it. There’s always room for a little incremental improvement, but there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns.”

Etling knows there’s more for him to show and while he’ll love to flip that switch tomorrow and begin a steady upward climb, it’s just not that simple. Belichick knows it, and so does his young QB. 

“The hay is not even close to being in the barn as far as work goes,” he said. “Especially for me. So, it’s just going to be a continual process of learning and working at it. There are no shortcuts. There’s just time and continuing to push through it.”

And with that, Etling scooped up his pads and helmets and began toward the stairs, ready to dive into film study and keep that process moving along. 


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