Saturday, July 16, 2016

"Jimmy Clipboard" No Longer: Brady's Decision Elevates Garoppolo To Opening Day Starter

"For the milk drinkers, the thought is that Garoppolo will be used as more of a game manager, not unlike what Matt Cassell experienced initially in 2008 when Brady tore his ACL - only this time Brady will be coming back, so we may not see a true body of work from him.  But the whiskey crowd wants to see the young fire-pisser jump in feet first from the very first possession, staking a claim as a legitimate professional quarterback.

The latter scenario seems to be the one gaining steam, as a decent performance by Garoppolo nets the coaching staff and Patriots' fans a little more solace in moving on from Brady in a few years - either that or it gives defacto General Manager Bill Belichick a solid gold trade chip moving into Jimmy's contract season - either way, Garoppolo is auditioning for something, which is a win in Belichick's book, and hopefully four wins on the scoreboard." - Foxborough Free Press, May 3, 2016

Think what you want about New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady's decision to give up on his last bastion of justice and accept a four game suspension imposed by the NFL for his alleged role in the so-called "Deflategate" saga - and there are many opinions - but there are just as many angles to consider...

...not the least of which that Brady's comfort level in leaving his offense in the hands of Jimmy Garoppolo, which has to be pretty high or that may have been a factor in accepting the suspension or not - or it could be precisely the opposite, where Brady chose to accept the suspension and serve the first four games so as not to potentially miss any important games down the stretch.

Either way, it doesn't matter.  Garoppolo is turning in his clipboard for a green dot.

Garoppolo is set to become only the third quarterback to start a football game for the Patriots since Brady took over the offense early in the 2001 season, with Matt Cassel being the only other - a stat that promotes a rather amazing streak of endurance and consistency on the part of Brady.  But as mentioned in the article cited above, this is a significant crossroads for Garoppolo.

This isn't just some hold-the-fort-until-Brady-returns job, the fate of at least one franchise is on the line, and probably a few more, as quarterback-hungry teams will be watching Garoppolo very closely.

The Patriots are at a crossroads as well, drafting North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett using third round draft capital, which is nothing to sneeze at considering New England had been stripped of a first round selection in this past April's NFL Draft, meaning that he is all but assured a spot on the Patriots'53 man roster - which presents an interesting scenario.

Should Garoppolo play up to his enormous potential, there are sure to be General Managers and head coaches around the league that would see him as worth giving up high draft capital to the Patriots to secure his services, probably dollars better spent than using said draft pick to take a top college prospect whose transition from college to the NFL is hardly a given.

Garoppolo is in his third season, is only 24 years old and has a skill set that enables him to be successful in just about any offensive philosophy.

Coming out of Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo was just a blip on the draft radar, most prognostication sites rating him as no better than a fifth-round pick - that is, until Garoppolo got to the post-season all star games, where he lit up opposing pass defenses with his compact, effortless-looking release and absolute rocket for an arm throwing into the intermediate zone.

"Garoppolo can find receivers and fire the ball on target faster than you can say his name. Lighting release and frozen rope medium distance sideline passes are reminiscent of Dan Marino's lasers. This despite concerns about his size, short arms and small hands." - Frank Cooney, 

He shot up the big boards and was mentioned in the same breath as other top quarterbacks in the class, and came into the 2014 draft being pegged as the Texans' franchise signal caller with the first pick of the second round.  Unfortunately for them, they passed on him at that point with the feeling that he would make it to the top of the third round, but Belichick pounced on him at the bottom of the second round, and Houston was forced to Plan B, Pitt's Tom Savage.

In retrospect, and even before Garoppolo takes the field on opening night, the move by the Dark Master was as shrewed as any Belichick has made in any draft, as he has either his franchise quarterback of the future under contract, or has a a stock certificate on the most prized commodity in football.

Maybe Belichick saw this coming in regard to the stupid and wrong Deflategate saga, or he really didn't want to have to rely on Ryan Mallet as his backup, or he simply just thought Garoppolo could be the successor to Brady - or maybe even a combination of all of the above - but whatever the motivation, Belichick is now in the same position with Garoppolo as he was with Drew Bledsoe after the 2001 season... Beldsoe to Buffalo for their 2003 first-round draft pick - and while Garoppolo isn't nearly as polished or experienced as the first overall pick in 1993, there is sure to be a general manager out there who would be willing to part with a second rounder, perhaps even a first rounder - and it wouldn't necessarily be during the next offseason.

Brady is due back from suspension in week 5, barely a month before the NFL trade deadline of November 3rd - a key occurrence as injuries could dictate a market for Garoppolo - or even Brissett - as it would be to the Patriots' advantage to shed a backup to Brady to create a roster spot somewhere else.

Of course, this is speculative.  It could very well be that Belichick carries three quarterbacks as his team is absolutely loaded at just about every level, with no real or perceived needs.  So with speculation being what it is - a guessing game full of hypotheticals and what-ifs - there is little doubt that all three signal callers on the camp roster possess a skill set friendly with the Erhardt-Perkins offense that Belichick prefers...

...but now that teams actually will have to game plan for Garoppolo - which means a concerted focus on taking away what he does best - how would a defense attack him?

As mentioned, Garoppolo's delivery is compact - a three-quarters delivery in which there is little-to-no windup - and when the ball leaves his hand, it comes out at just above his eye-level, and given that Garoppolo stands only 6' 3", the smart money is on teams understanding the Patriots' passing lanes and maintaining gap integrity.

It's not a sexy game plan and it lends itself  to giving a little too much respect to a guy who has thrown less than three dozen passes in his career, but to blitz him is to bring his mobility into play and it also leaves one of his monstrous tight ends in single coverage up the seam - and to take him too lightly and play shell coverage, he has the ability to pick the secondary apart with quick hitters.

The math of all of this is that teams will have to play Garoppolo straight-up, and afford him a level of respect unheard of for a third-year clipboard holder - partially because of the freakish nightmare of pass catchers that he will have to throw to, but also because his technique in progression is so sound that he wastes very little motion, and the ball comes out hot with just the snap of his wrist.

"From his pocket mobility to his accuracy to his mental makeup, he has a lot of qualities you look for as someone you can develop at the next level. A lot of young quarterbacks leave their feet behind when they check to their next progression. But not Garoppolo. By keeping his feet tied to his eyes, he's always in position, ready to pull the trigger." - ESPN analyst Todd McShay

What McShay means by keeping is feet tied to his eyes is that Garoppolo's feet move in unison with his line of sight, and the way he holds the ball high on his pads, he's cocked and ready to fire at all times.

Where this is particularly effective is on the quick-rhythm routes conceptually designed to target both the Patriots' lightning-quick garden gnome receivers in the underneath zones and their aforementioned monstrous tight ends in the intermediate zone and deep up the seam - and even more so when Garoppolo is improvising outside the pocket...

As the audio mentions, Garoppolo's accuracy is pretty amazing, his footwork is extraordinary and he has a thick lower half that aids him in escaping the clutches of ill-intended defensive linemen and which also contributes to his accuracy - and all of this is on full display at about the fifty second mark of this video.

The laser that he throws for a touchdown after escaping the clutches of the Saints' pass rush should serve as a warning to defensive coordinators to preach pocket containment and gap integrity, because that ball got to wide receiver Chris Harper in a hurry, Garoppolo using his forward momentum and natural wrist-snap to put the ball right where it needed to be, right when it need to be there.

All of this being said, one would think that this could turn into another Bledsoe-Brady circumstance if Garoppolo lights the league on fire through four games, but all one has to do is to fast forward the video to the end sequence, a flat-footed overthrow that resulted in a long interception to understand that there will be no quarterback controversy... Brady is a far more accomplished passer and is the greatest to ever play this game.

No, there are only two conclusions that will come out of Garoppolo's four-game audition - to be retained as the future of the franchise or be dealt to the highest bidder, and if Jimmy Clipboard ascends and plays light's out, then it will Belichick's task to determine which option is best for the team - both long term and short.

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