A friend of Jimmy Garoppolo said the news of Tom Brady standing down and accepting a four-game suspension would do nothing to alter the thought process of Garoppolo. The former Eastern Illinois star has been preparing as if he’s the starter since Day 1.
But it’s not that simple. The responsibilities of being the No. 1 guy are extensive, the weight can be prohibitive. So, can someone with limited reps, playing behind the best QB of his generation, naturally slide in and navigate the dangerous NFL waters for the Super Bowl favorite? Garoppolo’s personal quarterback coach for nearly a decade, Jeff Christensen, asks, “Why not”?
“He’s had three years to be around Tom to watch, and Jimmy is a visual learner,” said Christensen, founder of Throw It Deep, one of the top QB schools in the country. “He’s had three years to be around Coach Belichick, who’s probably one of the top five defensive minds in maybe the history of the game of football. If you are a student, which he is, I have to believe he’s going to be substantially better than he was the last two years, and I have no reason to believe he’s going to do anything but succeed.”
The maturation of Garoppolo has been evident to anyone who’s paid attention through a slew of offseason training activities, mini camps, training camps and preseason football over the past two-plus years. The confident-but-in-over-his-head rookie has shown a greater command of the offense, to the point where those in the huddle quickly and wisely accept that the kid knows exactly what he’s doing.
“When they [the QB] know that they are right, when they open their mouths and do something, and move somebody, and you know you’re right when you do it, that’s a very secure feeling that builds on your confidence,” noted Christensen. “It’s the simple things that when they start pinballing and stacking on top of each other, all of a sudden you get a guy who is really sure and that helps out how they deliver and throw the ball. It all plays into that picture as to what a great QB looks like, if that makes sense.”
Christensen has worked extensively with Redskins starter Kirk Cousins, the QB who made the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, Robert Griffin, expendable. He’s also worked with new Houston QB Brock Osweiler and Ryan Tannehill in Miami. He says Garoppolo’s one of those players who just gets it.
“Oh yeah, his technique is so good and the ball comes out so quick, which is what we did for seven years, teaching him how that happens, that he can make certain tight window throws out of instinct,” Christensen said. “When he sees a picture, he can just shoot it, whereas a lot of guys see a picture that appears tight and they choke it down and can’t throw it because they know they can’t get it in there. Jim can do that on instinct. That’s a 12-foot window 12 yards away and I can still put that ball right in that little hole. I got Gronk there. Bang. There’s no thought process that goes into it. It’s just like a computer, and because he gets the ball out so quickly he can make a lot of third down and 7 throws that a lot of guys can’t.”
Pats fans have been able to see little snippets of that from Garoppolo, first as a rookie in a game in Kansas City, then multiple times in the preseason last year. But now that he’s the starter, presumably, for four games, teams will approach him differently, game plan to take away what he does well, explore avenues to unnerve him. The list of quarterbacks who’ve failed to deliver when the game speeds up and schemes become more complex is long. Then again, most didn’t have the support system that Garoppolo will have going into Arizona in Week 1.
“Coach Belichick knows all the possible things they are going to throw at him, so he’s going to make sure that they get him all the looks that he knows that he’ll probably get,” said Christensen. “It’ll be real comforting the first time someone tries a double-backer weak side blitz and leaves a cover zero and he’s got Gronk going down the middle and he throws a BB for a touchdown of about 42 yards and people are going to go, ‘Uh oh, maybe we shouldn’t be so aggressive with this kid’. It only takes one of those and everybody gets really hesitant to blitz a guy that can just calmly with his feet lift it and shoot it accurately in a millisecond and throw it accurately doing so.”