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Is Ryan Mallett suffering sophomore slump with Pats?

Ryan Mallett turned heads during his rookie preseason with the New England Patriots last summer. Bill Belichick appeared to have found a successor to Tom Brady (at very least, a very tradable Matt Cassel 2.0).

Perception shifted following Mallett's underwhelming outing against the New Orleans Saints last week, followed by a Tuesday practice that drew whispers of a sophomore slump.

Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England was at practice and observed an interception laced with low throws, high throws and late throws tossed into tight coverage.

So what's going on with Ryan Mallett?

Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't sweating it: "What you look for is the overall execution by whatever player it is of his assignment, technique, and what happens on the play," he said. "And as some people like to do, every touchdown is a great play, every interception is the quarterback's fault. And unfortunately that's just not really the way it works. Sometimes we score in spite of ourselves, and sometimes quarterbacks do the right thing and there are breakdowns somewhere else."

It's not unusual to see a second-year NFL passer tail off statistically. Instead of regression, it's often a young player testing boundaries. As Belichick points out, "That's part of what practice is for ... to take risks, and to push it to see how far we can go, to see how much you can do."

Mallett's lab work against opponents is thin. With Brady and Brian Hoyer ahead of him, he's not about to see the field. If the Patriots are indeed grooming Mallett to follow Brady, it will be fascinating to watch.

Brady's youth in New England was a trial by fire. We've never seen Belichick unleash a quarterback after years of grooming. It's a scary thought, and a shadow of things to come.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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