FOXBOROUGH — Jimmy Garoppolo is a year older and presumably a year wiser compared to June 2015, but professionally speaking, he’s in the same position.
With Tom Brady facing a four-game suspension, Garoppolo likely would be elevated from backup quarterback to starter if Brady’s legal case doesn’t get overturned. It did last year, but not until days before the season opener in September, so Garoppolo had months to prepare as if he’d be on the field.
He’s doing the same thing this time. Barring another successful appeal, Garoppolo would be the guy when the Patriots visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 11.
“No, pretty much the same, going about my business the same way. Just coming out here and trying to get better every day,” Garoppolo said Tuesday, following the first of three practices that make up the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp. “To be honest, it really doesn’t change much for me. Whether it happened last year or it didn’t happen, I’m pretty much going about it the same way. Just enjoying the process right now and trying to get through OTAs.”
Brady, Garoppolo, and rookie Jacoby Brissett split the quarterback duties during Tuesday’s two-hour practice, which featured no pads, no tackling, and no hitting. It was a glorified passing camp, with some special teams work sprinkled in, taking advantage of a breezy day. Brissett spent the bulk of his time working with other first-year players, while Brady and Garoppolo received most of the work with more of the returning players.
Even hardcore Patriots fans needed a roster to see who the quarterbacks were throwing to, because a number of players who started a number of games on offense last season were not at practice. Receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, and offensive linemen Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason, and Josh Kline all skipped the workout.
Brady might miss the first four games, but he still went first in every drill, followed by Garoppolo.
Brady, whose Deflategate suspension was reinstated April 25 by a federal appeals court, was requested to speak after practice by media members, but left the field without taking questions. That left Garoppolo and Brissett to discuss and dissect the first of the team’s three minicamp practices.
“Gorgeous weather today, just slinging the ball around. It was a good day,” said Garoppolo. “I think it’s going in the right way, the right direction. There’s a long way to go, I’m only going into Year 3 now, there’s tons of things to improve on. If we keep going the right way, we’ll be all right.”
Garoppolo and Brady took roughly the same number of reps and made roughly the same number of throws. Garoppolo was part of the day’s best play, a deep ball brought in by Aaron Dobson, who made a one-handed catch with two defenders covering him.
Instead of Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola, and Lewis catching practice passes, on Tuesday it was Dobson, Chris Harper, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin Lucien, Nate Washington, and tight ends Michael Williams and Clay Harbor.
For Brissett, who was selected in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, it was another opportunity to create chemistry with his new teammates, and show the coaches how well he knows the playbook. He vocally corrected a receiver who had lined up in an illegal formation. He also displayed a strong arm.
“It’s been a great, great learning experience,” Brissett said. “Just going out there, having fun each day and learning.”
And asking questions of Brady and Garoppolo. Lots of questions.
“I ask that whole meeting room questions as much as possible,” Brissett said. “I’m sure it probably gets annoying to them, but I’m just trying to learn as much as possible.”
Of the three quarterbacks, even without many of the players this season’s offense will prominently feature, Brady looked the sharpest. His passes were crisp and on target, and with 16 NFL seasons under his belt, he knows the offense better than anyone else on the field.
Things might be different two and three months from now, depending on Brady’s status. For now, he’s out there, operating like it’s his team. Garoppolo is preparing as he did last year, and the year before that. The life of an NFL backup quarterback is to expect the unexpected.
“We’re not even into the season yet. We’ve got a long way to go out here,” Garoppolo said. “There’s no starters, no backups. We’re all just competing, trying to win a job.”