Now that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has upheld Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, second-year player Jimmy Garoppolo stands to start the first quarter of the season at quarterback for the Patriots.
Because Brady’s initial suspension was handed down in May, Garoppolo went into New England’s off-season workouts knowing he would be called on to start at least a couple of games. In the Patriots’ organized team activities in late May and June, Garoppolo and Brady shared the workload and the young quarterback impressed the coaching staff with his improvement over last season.
“He gained a lot of experience last year in training camp, the preseason, practice, and then this is another OTA spring for him where he has an opportunity to go out, make mistakes, learn from them,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said in June, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “He’s just much farther ahead. He’s making decisions quicker. He’s more sure of what to do. At the same time, there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t make a mistake that we can correct and try to improve his play off of.”
Garoppolo was a second-round pick in 2014 after a record-breaking career at Eastern Illinois University. He won the Walter Payton Award, the Division I FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, as a senior in 2013. He passed for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns in 14 games.
Garoppolo saw limited action in six games last season, completing 19 of 27 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. His most extensive action came in the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills, when he replaced Brady at the start of the second half. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 90 yards but the Patriots only scored three points on his five series.
Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell liked what he saw from Brady’s understudy, saying earlier this month that Garoppolo “has grown a lot since he first stepped foot up there in Foxborough.”
“I feel like studying behind Tom has been great for him. If we have to be without Tom for the first couple games, I’m pretty sure Tom will be in Jimmy’s ear helping him prepare each and every way he can to go out here and lead this team,” LaFell added, according to ESPN.com. “I think we have a great group of guys around him that will kind of take the pressure off Jimmy so he won’t have to feel like he has to go out there and win the game himself with me, Gronk, Edelman, Scott Chandler, we have all great guys around here –LeGarrette Blount, Aaron Dobson -- a few guys who can go out and make a lot of plays for him so he doesn’t feel like he has to go out there and win the game himself. Everybody just has to up their level of play to help out.”
There is still a chance that Brady could be able to play in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, though. Brady has reportedly authorized the players’ union to file an appeal of his suspension in federal court.
- Dan Gartland