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A season of twists and turns for Patriot backup QBs

Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo should be giving Tom Brady a lot of breathers in practice.
Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo should be giving Tom Brady a lot of breathers in practice.barry chin/globe staff

With Tom Brady back on the practice field Thursday, the Patriots had something that, for one reason or another, has eluded them this season: three active, practicing quarterbacks.

Rookie Jacoby Brissett is now off the injured reserve list, having made his return to practice Wednesday. Jimmy Garoppolo has been holding down the fort lately, as Brady has needed days off to rest his body.

Though Brady was able to practice Thursday, Garoppolo and Brissett are expected to keep spelling No. 12 on reps as the regular season heads toward its end.

That’s pretty normal stuff for backup quarterbacks. But not a lot has been normal this season.

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“It’s been a little different,” Garoppolo said. “But it’s part of being the backup; you never know when you’re going to get called, if you’re going to get called. You just have to be ready, I guess.”

Part of being the backup. Sure. But Garoppolo hasn’t exactly been a typical understudy. He was the It Boy while Brady was suspended, then the next big thing after he lit it up against Arizona and Miami. Then he got hurt.

Enter Brissett, stage right, in complete shock to be playing.

“I never would have thought about it,” Brissett said.

When Brady returned, Garoppolo slipped back easily into his old routine. But knowing the feeling of starting on Sundays stuck with him, as did his newfound understanding of how quickly things can change.

“Oh yeah,” Garoppolo said. “The experience from being able to start really helped, obviously. But you truly are one play away. Jacoby found that out the hard way, and you know — knock on wood — hopefully everything keeps rolling the way it is but, you know, you just always have to be ready to roll.”

(For the record, Garoppolo really did knock on the side of his locker.)

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As things went back to normal for Garoppolo, Brissett found himself pulled away from the team. He’d hurt his thumb in Week 3, when Houston’s Vince Wilfork fell awkwardly on him, and immediately knew something was wrong.

“I was like, yeah, this is bad,” he said. “But I just tried to play through it.”

Brissett played through it in Week 4 against the Bills, and though the Patriots lost, he gained a lot of respect from his teammates and coaches. But when Brady came back, Brissett had surgery and went on IR.

A thumb injury is worse than it sounds for a quarterback who relies on perfect control of his throwing motion and release, but Brissett still found it rather annoying that the tiny appendage was keeping him out of practice.

“I was just like, this is stupid,” he said.

He could still go to meetings, but he hated being at home alone on weekends. Mostly, he’d just sleep rather than watch games on TV. It was tedious.

“I felt like when I was playing it was going by fast, but now, when I got hurt, it went by slow,” Brissett said.

Brissett was thrilled when coaches suggested he join the team in Buffalo for Week 8. Players on injured reserve rarely travel, but Bill Belichick wanted him around to soak in as much information as possible. Brissett also joined the team in San Francisco and last week in East Rutherford, N.J. He loves the chance to learn in real time, and he’s even allowed to ask a few questions.

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“It’s unmatched,” Brissett said. “It’s better than just watching it on film, to be there in person and you can ask questions for the most part. Not really have conversations but you can ask, and we go through some of the stuff on the sidelines, so it’s good.”

The Patriots signaled how much they value Brissett by prioritizing his football education and letting him hang around so much. Brissett said he had no idea he’d be allowed to travel or hang around practices, and he appreciated the chance to. But he still wanted to actually break a sweat with his teammates. On Wednesday, he finally got to.

“I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve been out there,” Brissett said. “It was fun out there yesterday.”

With Brady needing rest, Brissett and Garoppolo should both be sweating plenty. Belichick has praised Garoppolo, in particular, for providing consistency to the rest of the offense when he fills in for Brady.

For Garoppolo, though, that doesn’t mean he tries to imitate Brady like a scout-team QB. All his reps come in practice, so he has to play like himself to work on his own game.

“You don’t get many reps, so when you get in there, you’ve got to make them count,” Garoppolo said. “I wouldn’t say I try to mimic the way he does things.

“I mean, obviously, being around him for three years you pick up things that he’s been doing for a while. He knows little tricks here and there, but everyone’s their own quarterback. You have to be your own player.

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“It’s the life of a backup,” Garoppolo added.

That life is now Brissett’s again, too, and he’s happy to have it.

“Anything can happen,” Brissett said. “But I hope I don’t have to.”


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.