New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can’t read the mind of head coach Bill Belichick. Garoppolo doesn’t know who he will play with on the field, whether he’ll start, or how long he’ll stay out. All he can do is be ready.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Garoppolo said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I'm preparing like I'm going to be the starter. You never know, last week was a good example, you never know what's going to happen.”
Garoppolo was unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup last week against the Bears after a freak scissors accident led Belichick to send Tom Brady home. Brady should be ready to play against the Panthers, and claims that he could have played against the Bears if needed.
Unlike Brady, Garoppolo has very little experience against first team defenses and the Panthers field one of the best in the entire league. Garoppolo wants to experience that pressure so he can be ready in week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.
“It's a good test,” Garoppolo said about the Panthers defense. “Like I said before, it's a very talented defense and all the way across the board they have good players everywhere. It will be a good test, and we're on the road, so it's a pretty close simulation to Week 1. It will be good for us.”
The Panthers feature one of the best defensive front sevens in the entire league and the Patriots will be piecing together an offensive line that will have to overcome injuries to starters Shaq Mason and Sebastian Vollmer.
The game will be a great test because the Cardinals have a sound defense of their own, including former Patriots edge defender Chandler Jones. But Garoppolo and company aren’t looking too far ahead.
“We're just focused on Carolina right now,” Garoppolo said. “We've got a big game Friday and we're not taking it lightly at all. They're a very talented football team with a very good defense, that front seven, they're really talented, so we have our hands full right now.”
If Garoppolo proves he can handle the Panthers defensive front, then I would have to think the team’s odds of surviving Brady’s four-game suspension will increase. The Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills all have fantastic defensive lines, so any positive takeaways from facing the Panthers will be a good sign.
Of course, Garoppolo might not start and he could end up facing the Panthers second team defense. Brady is holding out hope that he’ll be named the starter because he wants to face live defenses that can hit him in the pocket.
Garoppolo is walking a fine balance between acting as a back-up to a legend, while also asserting himself as a leader for the first four games. He knows that Brady is a competitor that wants to start, and he knows his role on the team.
“It's a tough situation at times, but you can't worry about that too much,” Garoppolo said about showing leadership on Brady’s team. “It's one of those things where if you start worrying about that, then you can't focus on whatever it is – your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I'm not trying to do something crazy and do something I've never done before, I'm trying to be myself and do what I do. “
Friday will be a big test for Garoppolo as he will likely not play next week against the Giants. If he aces the exam, then he’ll be in great shape to do well when the regular season begins.