With Tom Brady’s availability still up in the air when it comes to the first four games of the season, the spotlight has shifted to backup Jimmy Garoppolo. And while there’s some sense of the unknown when it comes to how Garoppolo might perform — even as a short-term starter — there’s one person who has full faith that the Eastern Illinois product will be able to perform if he has to step in for Brady for the first quarter of the season.
Jeff Christiansen of Throw It Deep Quarterback and Receiver Training Academy in Illinois has served as Garoppolo’s personal throwing coach the last several years — the two first connected when Garoppolo was a high schooler — and he believes Garoppolo is ready to start if Brady is sidelined because of his Deflategate ban.
“Sure he is,” Christiansen said Monday. “He’s a studious kid who is coachable and pays attention to all the little things. So much of this game is about knowing defenses and getting in and out of the right protection and checking down as needed and moving from run to pass and back again as needed. All of that is what he excels at.”
Christiansen, who works with several quarterbacks around the league, including Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler and Ryan Tannehill, points to Garoppolo’s time with Bill Belichick and Brady and the background he’s developed after two years on the roster as one of the main reasons. The second? Garoppolo has already made what Christiansen called “the leap” when it comes to his mental and physical development.
“A lot of times people overlook this one caveat — Jimmy came into the league when he was 22, not 23. Most of the kids who move into the NFL now are fifth-year seniors, unless they come out early,” he said. “There are a couple of big jumps that kids make in their overall progress at the quarterback position. Call it what you will — moxie, savvy, maturity. He’s just that much more wily than he was a couple of years ago.
“The other thing? When you’re in the room with Tom for two-plus years now, you learn everything you didn’t know before. Then you’re around Bill Belichick, and so you’re going to find out more about defense than you’ve ever learned anywhere else in your life.”
The 25-year-old Garoppolo has taken hundreds of snaps in the preseason but has never started in his two seasons with the Patriots. He’s seen action in 11 regular-season games since 2014 and has gone a combined 20-for-31 for 188 yards and a touchdown in that time. Asked about his development in January, Belichick lauded the advancements the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Garoppolo have made in the system since he was taken in the second round in 2014.
“I think Jimmy has made great strides for us this season,” Belichick said at the end of the 2015 regular season. “The reps that he’s gotten on the field in preseason games and in practice, I think he’s shown a lot of development — better understanding, quicker recognition and reading of the defenses, more awareness of what’s happening on the defensive side of the ball, better communication, better understanding of the offense, better understanding of the defense — really everything. I think we see it on a daily basis from Jimmy.
“He’s a hard-working kid who’s always prepared,” Belichick added. “It’s a tough position to be in when you don’t know if you’re going to play or not, but he prepares hard to play, we push him hard to be ready to play, and he’s made a lot of progress this year. As a football player, I think everybody has a lot of confidence in him based on the opportunities that he’s had to show what he can do and how he’s working.”
Christiansen acknowledges that if Garoppolo does start the first four games of the 2016 season, it’ll be a test for him, as he’ll face some of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in the league with the Cardinals, Texans, Dolphins and Bills to start the year.
“You’re at Arizona opening day — that’s not an easy game for anyone. I don’t care if you’re Drew Brees,” Christian said. “Then you come home and face the Texans on a short week. Another challenge that’s not easy for anyone. Then you have Miami at home.
“It’ll be a test. It’ll truly be a test. That’s when, if you’re Jimmy, you have to rely on coaching and game-planning and not turning the ball over and being accurate and getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers. I firmly believe he’ll play well. How well? Hey, that’s why we all buy the tickets, right?”
Of course, all of this is predicated on Brady sitting because of the Deflategate ban. For what it’s worth, Christiansen doesn’t believe the starter will miss any games.
“I’ll say what I said at this time last year: I highly doubt that Tom will miss any games,” Christiansen said. “But if Jimmy does play, I fully anticipate that he will play well. I believe that. If I didn’t believe it, I would say so. But I think that if he needs to play, I think Jimmy will play well, and it’ll be fun for everyone.”