FOXBOROUGH — He has had plenty of time to ruminate on the four opponents he’ll face as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, but Jimmy Garoppolo insisted he hasn’t even thought about his game plan for the season opener in Arizona.
“If you look too far ahead, you’ll get yourself in some trouble, and that never ends good,” Garoppolo said Wednesday before the Patriots practiced at Gillette Stadium.
“We’re just focusing on Carolina right now, we got a big game Friday. We’re not taking it lightly at all. They’re a very talented football team, very good defense — that front seven, I mean they’re really talented. So we got our hands full right now.”
While Tom Brady has yet to play a preseason snap, Garoppolo said he has not been told who will start Friday in the exhibition game against the reigning NFC champions.
Brady was slated to start last Thursday against the Bears after sitting out against New Orleans in the preseason opener, but he cut himself with a pair of scissors as he was getting ready in the locker room prior to kickoff. Brady was sent home by coach Bill Belichick, and Garoppolo started in his absence, playing into the third quarter.
“I’ll prepare like I’m going to be the starter, but you never know — last week was a good example — you never know what’s going to happen,” Garoppolo said.
After entering his last two seasons with New England knowing he’d be Brady’s backup, Garoppolo said this preseason has still felt pretty normal overall.
“You just kind of have to adjust as you go type of thing,” he said. “Coach does a good job at practice mixing and matching guys with starters and second string, whatever it may be, and that’s kind of how the season goes. You don’t know who’s going to be in, who’s injured, who’s whatever, and you just kind of have to react to it.”
He credited both the coaching staff and his own ability to block out distractions for giving him the sense of normalcy.
“I do a pretty good job of tuning everything out, try and just focus on the job at hand,” Garoppolo said. “You can’t worry about the things you can’t control. That’s a big part of just everything, really.
“I’ve prepared like this for the last two years, so I think that’s a big steppingstone for me. It definitely helped out. It is what it is, it’s football at the end of the day. You got to go out there and play, study, prepare as you always have, and good things will happen.”
Of course, learning under a quarterback like Brady doesn’t hurt.
“We have a ton of conversations day-in and day-out,” Garoppolo said. “We’re together 24/7. He’s been helpful this whole way, whether it’s encouragement, helping me with little things here and there. He’s been nothing but help and I thank him for that.”
In last week’s 23-22 win over the Bears, Garoppolo was 16 of 21 with 181 passing yards. He threw for one touchdown, hitting tight end A.J. Derby with a 16-yard pass to cap a two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
“Year after year, you’re going to be more comfortable in the system, whatever it may be,” Garoppolo said. “I think I’m progressing the right way. There’s obviously a long way to go. You always want to be as precise and decisive as you can be, but I think I’m working in the right direction.”
Video: Patriots Q&A with Ben Volin
Gronkowski is back
Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to the field Wednesday for the first time since leaving a joint practice with the Bears Aug. 15 with an undisclosed injury. In the nine days since, Gronkowski has been spotted only in the locker room . . . The Patriots worked out in shorts and shells . . . Players not spotted at practice included running back Dion Lewis, guards Jonathan Cooper and Shaq Mason, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and defensive tackle Alan Branch. All are injured except Branch (team suspension) . . . Defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Shea McClellin, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell retreated to the conditioning field after team stretching. Receiver Danny Amendola and guard Tre’ Jackson did as well, but neither wore a helmet or shell.