In January during the New England Patriots' playoff bye week, head coach Bill Belichick was asked where he thought backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had made the biggest strides in his second season with the club. His answer is timely to revisit in the wake of the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstating quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension Monday, which will thrust Garoppolo into the No. 1 spot.
"Jimmy has made great strides for us," Belichick answered. "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 -- really everything."
One of the only things the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Garoppolo doesn't have is experience, which is similar to 2008 when the Patriots had to turn to Matt Cassel after Brady tore his ACL in the season-opener. The Patriots had confidence they could be competitive with Cassel, but as Belichick would later say, there is always an element of uncertainty for a young quarterback until he's thrust into the role.
The Patriots' coaching staff tweaked its approach to play to Cassel's strengths, and the same process would unfold this year with Garoppolo.
Meanwhile, off the field, Garoppolo got a good feel for the intense media spotlight of being the No. 1 guy during last year's offseason camps, training camp and preseason when Brady's availability was also in question. Garoppolo handled in stride.
He played 159 snaps last preseason and finished 61 of 80 for 554 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Getting the football out on time was an area of inconsistency at times, which is common for developing quarterbacks.
Overall, the Patriots believe they can be competitive with Garoppolo, if that's the way it unfolds.
"He’s a hard-working kid who’s always prepared," Belichick said on Jan. 5. "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."