During three seasons at Houston Baptist University and a fourth in western Kentucky, offensive coordinator Billy Zappie propagated a seemingly counterintuitive tactic.
“I don’t believe in perfect play calls,” Zach Keatley, now Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator, told Yahoo Sports. “You play against really good coaches. They will give you something you don’t expect.”
Keatley believes the midfielders can and should alter some calls at the line of scrimmage. So he celebrated when Zappe came out of his running play to perform a passing touchdown, and also laughed when Zappe understood a start-up call—maybe it too was considered just beginning, given the midfielder’s freedom to change direction – he pushed him to get rid of his coordinator’s mid signal. Keatley realizes that Zabby already knows what’s to come.
And the more a coach could enable a player to act accordingly, the more Zappe he believed would eventually be ready for the NFL.
Fast-forward to last Sunday, and the fourth-round quarterback that some talent evaluators deemed “unplanned” 14 months ago completed 17 of 21 passes for 188 yards, touchdowns and interceptions, resulting in a 100.0 pass rating. New England Patriots He won his first NFL game.
Strong running game and accumulated defensive performance undoubtedly helped. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t underestimate Zappy’s role.
“He was confident there,” Belichick said after the Patriots’ 29-0 win against the Lions. “He does a good job seeing the match and he can come in and identify and explain what happened, and that’s usually true. What he saw is usually what I saw, or maybe when you look at the movie, maybe there’s something a little gray in there that his interpretation is really good. It was the way he saw it. out.
“Maybe he didn’t do the right thing, but he watched the match.”
Patriots fans are now waiting to see how long it lasts to start Mac Jones of the wounded. But those close to Zabi have seen this novel before.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft found Zappie in the locker room on Sunday and summed up well nearly two games of play. (Zabi came in relief to Brian Hoyer against the Green Bay Packers At Lambeau Field, complete 10 of 15 passes for 99 yards and touchdowns.)
“Fantastic poise,” Kraft said, after embracing the rookie. “I showed it last week, and I wanted to tell you.”
This poise is arguably the best description of how a zero-star recruit who was the first four years of college football at the FCS level was able to diagnose a game so early in his NFL career.
Zappe has grown steadily at the Houston Baptist, improving his overall production and completion percentage each season. In his last two years, he threw 50 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. And on his biggest stage, against Texas Tech in 2020, Zappe threw for 567 yards and four touchdowns. HBU, enter the game as 41.5 points are not nominatedlost only 35-33.
Scout and now his agent Nicole Lane was impressed by Zappy’s “fling” of her. But Bowl CEO Jim Nagy was more realistic with draft odds for Zappe who is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds.
“There could have been concerns about the level of competition,” Nagy told Yahoo Sports. “He had one nice game against Texas Tech, but that’s not a very large sample size. So I guess odds are he would have been an unformed free agent.”
With his COVID eligibility year granted, Zappe moved to Western Kentucky, where Keatley was coordinating it. The transition from FCS to FBS didn’t bother him, and instead, Zappe broke an 18-year-old NCAA record with 5,967 yards. His 62 touchdown in 14 games also set a new NCAA tag, replacing the former and current LSU Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe BoroughPrevious record of 60 (in 15 matches). And in games against the Indiana Big Tens and No. 17 Michigan State, Zappy rose to the occasion. He completed over 70% of his passes per game, throwing six touchdowns in total without any interceptions.
Zappy’s instincts, anticipation, and awareness impressed the NFL residents. But Zappe wanted those who considered it a limited college product to know: he wasn’t simply broadcasting it. He freely navigated the line of scrimmage on play calls, also navigating NFL-length utterances like “Shark flips on bumblebee Pop Lakers throw 90 swap” where Keatley says he threw a 35-yard touchdown.
“Coach Keatley gave me, he said, the keys to a Lamborghini,” Zappie said at the NFL Scouting Association in March. “I was able to get in and out plays whatever I saw fit, whatever I saw the defense was doing and I think how to translate that into the NFL is kind of part of knowing the game. To be able to read the defenses and know what defense is ahead of time, I think That would continue to help me throughout my NFL career, just realizing what defenses do against us.”
Zappe was asked that day if being a “game manager” was a compliment.
“100 percent,” he said, before adding a now-almost odd postscript. “The greatest player ever is the Game Director: Tom Brady.”
Can Bailey Zappe start even when Mac Jones is healthy?
When the Patriots drafted Zappe in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the league voices wondered: Why take the quarterback so high just a year after Jones exited Alabama in the first round, with the 15th overall pick?
Patriots manager Matt Groh said what then sounded like coach talk.
“Yes, there is a man in the field,” Groh said on April 30, “but you better have one, two, or three in the system. You never know when those guys are needed. And if you’re short on the job, you’re going to have a real problem.”
Within five months, the problems were resolved.
Jones suffered a sprained ankle on September 25 against the Ravens, and Reserve Hoyer suffered a concussion on October 2 at Green Bay. Zappe was pushed out of the third series into action in what was ultimately a 27-24 loss. He then started against the Detroit Lions, with Belichick and his teammates praising how Zappy made the decision and the execution even from the previous week.
Jones’ status in this week’s game in Cleveland remains in question, with coaches saying he is working on a comeback without a schedule. But Zappe’s play produced a 104.7 net pass rating to Jones of 76.2. Zappe threw two touchdowns with one interception to land Jones with five interceptions.
The sample size is small and uncontrolled. However, Belichick did not declare Jones Slim as the unconditional starter on Monday when asked.
“I’m not going to get into a lot of assumptions about all those different things that may or may not happen,” Belichick said. He told Boston radio station WEEI, praising Zappe’s handling of changes in human and region coverage. “That, to me, is just a waste of time. I will not sit around and dream about scenarios and all that. We will take things when you come and go from there.”
He added that Jones “wasn’t active” against the lions so there was no decision yet.
Zappe also focuses on taking developments step by step. He praised his offensive line, weapons, and defense for his support. The Patriots still only have a 28.4% chance of making the playoffs, For every player from outside football — but that increased 7.9% with Zappe’s first start win alone.
Defending, running and doing enough was a recipe for the Lions, and it could be again this weekend against the Cleveland Browns.
Regardless, Zappe’s behavior remains consistent.
“As I’ve always been told, take your chance,” he said. “Getting 1 percent better every day.”
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