FOXBOROUGH – All it takes is one four-minute press conference with Jimmy Garoppolo, and you realize why the Patriots fell in love with the kid.
Garoppolo gets it.
The Patriots spend a lot of time coaching up their rookies on how to answer certain questions from the media, but the rookie quarterback is one guy who doesn’t need it. He has an impressive attitude and perspective for someone just 22 years old.
June minicamp practices can often be laborious and thankless. It’s hot and humid, the season is still three months away, and what happens on the practice field rarely has much of an impact on what happens during the fall.
Garoppolo, though, can’t get enough of it.
“It’s gorgeous out today, had a great day of practice,” Garoppolo said with a big smile on his face, of course. “What else would you rather be doing?”
Everything you hear about Garoppolo since coming to the Patriots as the 62d overall draft pick last month is cliché — the first guy to arrive in the morning, the last guy to leave, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Except it’s all true. Garoppolo really is putting in a ton of extra time after practice with his receivers, and off the field with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, as he transitions from tiny Eastern Illinois University to the NFL. He’s been getting a ton of 1-on-1 instruction from McDaniels, and seems to genuinely enjoy it.
“It’s awesome,” Garoppolo said. “Josh is just like me — an energetic guy, loves the offense, loves football. We go out there and have a great time every day.”
It’s not a front with Garoppolo. It’s just how the kid is wired. Ask his teammates about Garoppolo, and they pretty much all say the same things about it.
“Smart kid, hard worker. In the building a lot,” is how tight end Michael Hoomanawanui described him. “He’s good, man. He’s here for a reason.”
Garoppolo is here because he can spin the football. That much was evident on Tuesday, when he beat double coverage and dropped a gorgeous sideline fade into the waiting arms of rookie receiver Jeremy Johnson for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. Tom Brady’s arm is stronger, but Garoppolo throws a much prettier ball.
“You see your safeties rotate, you get your eyes in the right place and you have to have efficient eyes, and I did that on that play,” Garoppolo explained.
Garoppolo is also here as Brady insurance for the next couple of seasons. He may eventually take over for him. He knows it, Brady knows it, everyone in the world knows it. But that’s not Garoppolo’s motivation.
“If you’re focused on that, you’re focused on the wrong thing,” he said. “My main focus is coming out here and being very consistent day in and day out. It’s a grind, and you have to come out here and just do good each and every day.”
And Garoppolo is here because he fits in perfectly with what Bill Belichick wants in a football player. Can he transition from second-tier college football to the NFL? We’ll see. But the kid is sharp, there’s no doubt about that. And in the NFL, the brain is the most important muscle for a quarterback. It’s why Peyton Manning can smash passing records with a glass arm at 37, and why JaMarcus Russell, built like Adonis, washed out so quickly.
We’ll see in the preseason if he’s smart enough to read an NFL defense. All we can go with for now is how he does in these non-contact practices, and how he handles himself in front of the cameras.
To the former, he’s doing about as well as could be expected of a rookie. He makes some gorgeous throws, like the wheel route he dropped in perfectly to fellow rookie running back James White. He under-throws some others, and fumbles the occasional snap, like he did at the end of last Thursday’s practice.
As for how he handles himself publicly, Garoppolo is already a pro. He knows how awkward it could be with Brady and Ryan Mallett. He makes sure to watch them closely during practice, and praise them whenever he can.
“They’re two guys that have been doing this for awhile and they know the offense very well, so they’ve helped me a tremendous amount,” he said.
Garoppolo tries not to ask Brady too many questions. The last thing he wants is to be a little pest.
“Not so much what he tells me, but just watching his mannerisms and everything, I’ve learned a lot,” Garoppolo said. “The quarterback, you’re the coach on the field, you’re expected to know everything and get people in the right spot and take command. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Garoppolo gives the perfect Patriot answers when asked about his progress over the past month. But he’s not a robot when he does it, like so many of his fellow players. He’s just cut from the same mold as Belichick and Brady.
“You have to be consistently good, and not occasionally great,” he said. “You have to come out here and do your best every single day and let the coaches see what you can do.”
Garoppolo was dripping sweat during his interview after two-plus hours on the field. He got a ton of reps on Tuesday, with Mallett not participating in team drills because of an injury. Practice was over, but Garoppolo’s workday was not.
“Not even close to being over,” he said.
The kid just gets it.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin