FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kevin O'Connell is still the New England Patriots' No. 2 quarterback.
This time, it's intentional.
O'Connell moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 last year after Tom Brady was injured during the season opener and Matt Cassel was promoted to starter. Cassel was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason, and now O'Connell will be the one who steps in for the Patriots if Brady is hurt.
"Last year was an unfortunate situation, but I was able to get a lot of repetitions that I wouldn't have gotten as a third quarterback," O'Connell said Wednesday after the Patriots wrapped up a voluntary, three-day minicamp. "No matter how far back I am on the depth chart, I just have to be ready. Matt was a good example of that."
Cassel stepped in when Brady was hurt during the first half of the first game and led New England to an 11-5 record. The Patriots missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
O'Connell played in just two games as a rookie last season while backing up Cassel, completing 4 of 6 passes for 23 yards. When Cassel was traded to the Chiefs along with linebacker Mike Vrabel for a second-round draft pick, it was a sign to Patriots fans that Brady was expected to be fully recovered from the knee injury that benched him for virtually the entire season.
And when the Patriots decided not to bring in an experienced backup quarterback, it was a sign that they trusted O'Connell to do the job.
O'Connell said he hopes he can learn from Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the 2007 NFL MVP, the way Cassel did.
"He's working as hard as everybody else around here," O'Connell said of Brady. "He's doing everything he can. I'm just looking forward to working with him the rest of the season."
Brady was spotted with his new wife, Gisele Bundchen, at a charity gala Tuesday night, but he wasn't at practice Wednesday. Brady had been working out at the stadium this week, a Patriots spokesman said, but the organized team activity was designed for rookies and free agents who needed the time to get accustomed to the playbook.
Most of the 50 or so players on the field were rookies and free agents who needed the time to grow accustomed to the Patriots' playbook.
"I'm learning the system, so I can compete without hesitation," said veteran running back Fred Taylor, who signed with the Patriots after spending his first 11 NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I don't want to feel like a rookie out there."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press