Brian Lewerke didn’t get drafted, but the former Michigan State quarterback might have landed in just the right spot.
Getting selected in the NFL’s seven-round draft was coin flip for the Spartans’ career leader in total yards, and when Lewerke’s name wasn’t called, the expectation was he would land a free-agent deal. Two days after the draft, that deal came as Lewerke signed with the New England Patriots.
“I'm not disappointed that he's a free agent and didn't get drafted,” said Mike Giovando, an Arizona-based quarterback coach who has worked with Lewerke for the bulk of his career. “And he’s the same way. He's happy he's got a chance.
“He’s a great quarterback who’s gonna learn his playbook, and I think there are going to be some other things they’re going to see that they like. And when they get him out there and watch him throw it, they're gonna be like, ‘He can spin it. He can spin it.’ He can throw it and he can move it around the field. And when he gets in a game, he’s kind of a gamer, man. When he gets in the game and chips are on the line and when he’s healthy and feeling he's tough to deal with. He's a good player, a really good player.”
Lewerke flashed plenty of that talent as a three-year starter at Michigan State, primarily in his sophomore season when he threw for more than 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns while running for more than 500 yards and five more scores as the Spartans won 10 games.
However, an injured shoulder derailed his junior season and an overall ineffective offense limited Lewerke as a senior, leading to plenty of doubt entering the draft. But, as is the case with many undrafted free agents, Lewerke was offered the opportunity to sign with any team, and it turns out the spot with the Patriots might give him the best shot at sticking in the NFL.
With Tom Brady off to Tampa Bay, the Patriots have quite the hole to fill and appear to be entering into an uncertain 2020 season prepared to hand the job to Jarrett Stidham, the team’s fourth-round pick from 2019 who appeared in three games. They’ve also signed veteran and former Spartan Brian Hoyer for his third stint with the team as the likely No. 2 and many believed they’d select another quarterback in this year’s draft.
Instead, the Patriots signed Lewerke and former Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith with the pair likely competing to become the third quarterback and potential member of the practice squad. There has been consistent buzz about New England perhaps being interested in free-agent quarterback Cam Newton, but nothing has materialized.
“That's where we are,” coach Bill Belichick said on the NFL Network a little more than a week ago. “You never know what's going to happen down the road, but we feel like we have four good players there.”
There’s plenty to like about Lewerke that will potentially translate to the next level and give him a good shot at becoming an NFL quarterback. A three-year starter, Lewerke has had to fight through plenty of adversity, dealing with two injuries during his Michigan State career and experiencing plenty of highs and lows. During his redshirt season, Michigan State reached the College Football Playoff and in his first year as a starter — 2017 — he led the Spartans to 10 wins.
But he’s also battled through a broken leg as a redshirt freshman and a bad shoulder as a junior. Through it all, he’s always remained on an even keel.
“I've always liked his demeanor,” Giovando said. “I've always liked his personality and he’s just got a way of you can tell that things don't bother him. He’s athletic, you know, a really, really good athlete, and I think that he's super intelligent. He’s a smart guy that understands football really well. He gets it and he’s got all those intangibles and the leadership ability, and he can throw the football, man. He's can make the throws. There's not a throw he really can't make. He has a strong arm and he does a lot of things really, really, really well.”
Someone who had to deal with Lewerke regularly was Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Brown told WEEI radio in Boston. “The year we lost to them, which was back in ’17, he had about a 25-yard scramble for a touchdown. The guy obviously has a strong arm, good movement skills. I thought he had a good feel for what they wanted him to do.”
That was the only season Lewerke and the Spartans got the best of Brown’s defense, but Brown knew Lewerke wasn’t healthy in 2018 when he missed two games with the injury to his throwing shoulder.
Last season, as a senior captain, Lewerke looked more like the quarterback from his sophomore season, one Brown and the Wolverines knew they had to account for.
“I thought this year he played better against us,” Brown said. “He made one throw over the middle that I remember and I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a hell of a throw.’ You know what I mean? Like he leaned on it and it was a fastball, baby.
“The word on the street on the kid is that he’s a great kid, great team leader. Hard-working guy. I was always concerned when we were playing him, he had my attention, that’s for sure. They would try to move the pocket on us, play-action us, all those kinds of things. He had a good handle on it. But that’s an interesting guy to take, for sure.”
When Lewerke will get a chance to prove himself is anyone’s guess at this point. The NFL has released its schedule, but as of now, there’s no definitive plan on whether training camps will be held on time as the nation continues to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whenever Lewerke does get that shot at winning a spot with the Patriots, Giovando is confident in his longtime pupil.
“I don't see why he couldn't definitely be around the league for a while,” Giovando said. “I think he's got a chance to be around, and I mean for a while. Right now he's focused on just making this practice squad. He knows what they brought him in for, and that's his focus. ‘I'm gonna get on this team and get me a spot and then from there, I'm gonna give them every reason not to get rid of me. I'm gonna make sure they keep me. I'm gonna do everything I can in my power to be here for a while.’ And that’s it. As a free agent, it’s just kind of the way you got to play.”