FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick acknowledged the finality of Deflategate Wednesday when he said the Patriots’ immediate mission is to get Jimmy Garoppolo up to speed as the starting quarterback.
Garoppolo will hold the position for the first four weeks of the regular season as Tom Brady serves his suspension.
“We have, finally, some definition with Tom’s situation, so our priority now then is to get Jimmy ready for the start of the season, for the Arizona game [Sept. 11], so that’ll be obviously a comprehensive process,’’ the Patriots coach said during his first meeting with the media this season.
Belichick declined to get into the specifics regarding that process but did nip any quarterback controversy in the bud.
“Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back, but in the meantime we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that’ll be to get Jimmy ready to go,’’ Belichick said. “That’s pretty much where we are for today. It’ll be a day-by-day, step-by-step process.’’
Brady also will miss home games against the Dolphins, Texans, and Bills before being eligible to return for the Oct. 9 game at Cleveland.
This will mark the first time the Patriots will open the season with a starting quarterback other than Brady since 2001, when Drew Bledsoe was at the helm. Brady took over after Bledsoe was knocked out with an injury against the Jets in Week 2 of that season and has led the Patriots to six Super Bowl appearances, including four wins.
When asked if he ever got weary of Deflategate, which began after the Patriots beat the Colts in the AFC Championship game in January of 2015, or if he thought at any point the saga was hurting his club, Belichick preferred to look ahead.
“Well, really I never dealt with it until, I would say, the decision has been made that looks like, this is what it’s going to be,’’ he said. “It’s been in some version of litigation, appeal, appeal depending on how the litigation goes. It’s been in the same place for a year and a half, basically. There’s definition to it now. We’ll move forward based on that definition.’’
Belichick said how the work is divided between the quarterbacks is something that will work itself out, but he made it clear he likes his group, so it would seem unlikely he’s thinking of bringing in a fourth arm at this time.
“I think we have a good situation,’’ he said. “We have three players we want to work with. Look, in some other years I’ve seen teams that probably don’t feel like they have anybody, or maybe they have one. I think we’re in a good situation.’’
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on the workload subject earlier in the day and said for now it’ll be business as usual.
“We usually split them up pretty evenly,” he said. “We don’t really put anybody in first and second groups, or third groups, at this point.’’
McDaniels made it clear that nobody will feel left out.
“They’re both going to get plenty of reps, and so is Jacoby [Brissett],’’ he said.
Later, McDaniels expounded on the team’s training camp philosophy and didn’t feel this year’s situation was all that unique.
“Our jobs, very clearly stated, are to get all our guys ready to go, we’re always one play away from the next guy going in, it’s the game we play,’’ he said. “We have to be constantly evaluating where each guy in our room is at, what they need, and you can’t coach them necessarily all the same, so they’re not at the same place, so we’re going to give them all a lot of reps, and that’s really the big thing, everybody’s going to get great opportunities to improve.’’
Last week, tight end Rob Gronkowski said having Deflategate end was a “relief,” and Wednesday special teams captain Matthew Slater echoed that sentiment.
“To have a little clarity with that situation is obviously going to help our quarterback situation the first four games, and we know what it is now and we can prepare for it,’’ said Slater, who added he hadn’t spoken with Brady about the quarterback’s decision to no longer pursue the matter legally.
Slater also expressed confidence in Garoppolo, who will be making his first start (he has 11 relief appearances) in the prime-time opener Sept. 11.
“He’s prepared himself for a moment to play since he got in this league. He’s worked for it and we believe in his abilities,’’ said Slater. “I know Tom is going to do everything that he can do to make sure that not only is Jimmy prepared but that this football team is prepared to do what it needs to do moving forward.’’
That moving-forward period begins Thursday when the Patriots hold their first on-field practice of training camp.