FOXBOROUGH — Given the uncertainty around the Patriots thanks to Tom Brady’s four-game suspension and accompanying lawsuit against the NFL, everyone on the team is in a strange situation.
But second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may be in the most uncomfortable spot of all. Drafted in the second round last year, Garoppolo knew when the Patriots selected him he would have to sit behind Brady for a undetermined amount of time — with the face of the franchise signed through the 2017 season, that could be as many as four years.
All players want to play, but given the nature of the quarterback position, more often than not the starter sees the lion’s share of snaps. So Garoppolo might get to start the first four games of his career and show the Patriots, and the NFL, what kind of player he can be.
He will get that opportunity, however, under strange circumstances.
In a couple of media appearances since Brady’s suspension was first handed down, Garoppolo has shown he has at least one thing in common with his veteran position-mate: he’s fairly unflappable in the face of scrutiny.
On Thursday afternoon, the first practice of his second training camp under his belt, Garoppolo found himself pinned against a Patriots’ backdrop, a crush of cameras and microphones and reporters bearing down on him, everyone wanting to know how he will handle a potential starting role.
“We’re not really looking that far ahead,” Garoppolo said. “I don’t think anyone is. It’s the first day of training camp; got out here with the guys and it felt good to get out here with all of them.”
Quick with a smile and possessing matinee idol looks, the 23-year old acknowledged he’s made progress since last year at this time, but he has a ways to go.
“There’s an endless amount of things that I have to work on,” he said. “We’re all out here just trying to get better every day, take it one day at a time. There are little things every day that you focus on.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talked about the growth players can experience from Year 1 to Year 2.
“As a rookie it’s hard to . . . there’s a lot of things going on. You’re trying to learn the information we’re giving you, which is excessive, and then you got what’s going on on the defensive side of the ball and then you have the physical part of actually playing the position,” McDaniels said. “Last year there’s days I’m sure he was trying to remember what we talked about in the meeting instead of focusing on some of the other things you need to focus on.
“It’s his second year, and like every second-year player, you would expect him to come in with a little bit better foundation and understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
When it comes to what McDaniels asks of him, Garoppolo said, “Compared to last year? I mean, it’s night and day. Last year, I was just trying to pick up the playbook, meetings, head was spinning a little bit, so this year it’s a little different. Got different goals and everything and focusing on that.”
McDaniels said there was almost a 50-50 split of snaps between Brady and Garoppolo on Thursday, though it appeared Brady ran the first-team offense exclusively. Garoppolo was intercepted once, in a goal-line 7-on-7 drill, by rookie Jordan Richards.
“It was a terrible decision — just one that you can’t make,” Garoppolo said. “I had to forget about it quickly. There was a lot of practice left, lot of 7-on-7 and a lot of team [drills], so just forget about that fast and move on.”
From a learning standpoint, Garoppolo did get drafted into a great situation. Brady is renowned for his preparation, and any young quarterback would be smart to mimic Brady’s every move when it comes to that aspect of the game.
“There’s tons of stuff you try to learn” from Brady, Garoppolo said. “You don’t want to ask too many questions because he’s got a job to do, too, so you kind of want to see it from afar. See what he does, see how he does it and just put it towards your game.”
At the moment, Garoppolo is set to start four games, though if cooler heads prevail and the NFL and NFL Players Association are able to negotiate a settlement for Brady without going through court, that could change.
Four, two, one, none — McDaniels said he doesn’t talk to Garoppolo about it.
“Nope,” McDaniels said. “We have so many things to do right now in terms of just building a foundation for this year. We’re not talking about [the first preseason game against] the Green Bay Packers, we’re not talking about anything else other than what we can accomplish each day at practice.”
Garoppolo has one other thing in common with Brady, at least when it comes to dealing with the media: after answering what a team official had announced was the last question, Garoppolo smiled and said, “Thanks, guys,” and cut his exit through the scrum.