FOXBORO — While there’s some debate as to whether or not Jimmy Garoppolo could be the guy who eventually succeeds Tom Brady at quarterback with the Patriots, he’s certainly been constructed in the mold of Brady.
You can’t tell the story of the development of Brady without mentioning Brady’s personal quarterbacking guru Tom Martinez. Martinez, who worked with Brady as a high schooler until his death in 2012, helped refine Brady’s game to a fine point, crafting a Super Bowl champion, two-time MVP and one of the best quarterbacks of his generation.
And when it came time to turn Jimmy Garoppolo from a middle of the road high school linebacker into an NFL-ready quarterback, the influence of Martinez and Brady loomed large.
Garoppolo, who was taken 62nd overall in Friday’s draft by the Patriots — the highest-ever selection of a quarterback by Bill Belichick and the Patriots — has been tutored by former NFL quarterback Jeff Christensen for roughly the last decade. Garoppolo has been with Christensen since he was a high school linebacker interested in making the move to quarterback.
Christensen, who runs the Throw It Deep quarterback and receiver academy in suburban Illinois, went point by point from the Brady/Martinez playbook. Much of the drills, technique and footwork that Garoppolo went through over the last 10 years all came straight from the same guy who helped tutor Brady.
“When Jimmy came to me, he was a sophomore linebacker in high school,” Christensen said Friday night, shortly after Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots. “He was sent to me by his high school coach Doug Milsaps, and I started working with him and teaching him proper techniques and arm angles and footwork, and so on and so forth. Everything we did, we trained him off film of Tom. Every video, every drill, every routine was all based off Tom Brady, and what he did with Tom Martinez.
“This is so surreal to me, it’s almost frightening,” he added after being told Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots. “EVERYTHING we did was off Tom Brady. Brady set the standard for perfect technique, and so it just made sense for us to follow everything that Tom Martinez did with Brady.”
And so when Garoppolo says that Brady was the guy he emulated growing up, Christensen can vouch for the authenticity of the statement.
“I don’t know if I brainwashed him, but he’s been raised on Tom Brady’s technique ever since he was in high school,” Christensen said with a laugh. “Literally, it was all Brady, all the time.”
“He was always the guy I emulated my game after,” Garoppolo said of Brady Friday night shortly after the announcement was made. “His poise in the pocket is so impressive. He really does a great job of taking control of the offense. He never really loses his cool. He’s always cool, calm and collected in the pocket, and that’s what I try to do.”
Garoppolo and Christensen first connected when Garoppolo was in high school. That’s when Christensen told him he “had the makings of an NFL quarterback.” After some skepticism from Garoppolo, he bought in, and with a steady diet of Brady film, he became a believer.
“He just bought in and kept improving,” recalled Christensen of Garoppolo’s development.
The crash course in Brady technique paid off. Garoppolo started all 45 games he appeared in for Eastern Illinois, completing 1,047-of-1,668 passes (63 percent) for 13,151 yards, 118 touchdowns and 51 picks. That includes 375-of-568 (66 percent) for 5,050 yards with 53 TDs and nine interceptions in 14 games last year with EIU. In the end, he left Eastern Illinois as the record holder for career passing yards and touchdown passes, single-season passing yards and touchdown passes, and single-game touchdown passes.
Christensen, another Eastern Illinois product, was taken in the fifth round of the 1983 draft by the Bengals, and ending up playing eight years in the league. (Sean Payton and Tony Romo also played quarterback at EIU.) He said that Garoppolo has what it takes to succeed in New England.
“He is definitely the guy who could come in after Tom,” Christensen said of Garoppolo, who added that Brady will “fall in love” with Garoppolo.
“Jimmy is a sponge,” Christensen said. “He wants to be a great player, and a great student of the game. And now, he’s lucky enough to have Bill Belichick teaching him about NFL defenses. He has a photographic memory. He won’t be intrusive to Tom — he has zero arrogance about him. He just wants to be the best quarterback he can be and just enjoy the experience. He wants to be great.”