Entering Day Five of the full-pads portion of this year’s training camp, the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition is starting to heat up. But while veteran free agency addition Cam Newton seems to be trending in the right direction coming off his best practice to date on Thursday, second-year man Jarrett Stidham has started struggling the last few days — especially when it comes to taking care of the football.
After throwing no interceptions during Monday’s practice, he had three on Tuesday (in a span of just five pass attempts), one on Wednesday, and two more on Thursday. His up-and-down performance will not go unnoticed with a coaching staff anal about ball security and not making avoidable mistakes. It also, meanwhile, brings back memories of former Patriots backup quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo, who started two games in place of Tom Brady during his three-and-a-half seasons in New England, was also not immune to throwing interceptions in practice — much like Stidham recently. During his final training camp as a member of the Patriots in the summer of 2017, for example, he threw five picks in the first two days alone and seemed to make some of the same mistakes in terms of consistently placing the football that his successor is currently trying to work through.
However, Garoppolo is a good example that practice statistics are not always reflective of a quarterback’s development within the system and position on a team. Current Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer pointed this one out during a media session on Thursday, and Garoppolo himself did it three years ago.
“You always try to do the right thing in practice, but practice is also that time — especially in training camp — to try to give a guy an opportunity you maybe wouldn’t in the regular season,” said the former second-round draft pick after a late-July practice in 2017 during which he added two more interceptions to his totals. “But there’s a time to gain trust in your teammates, and to give guys an opportunity.”
Stidham and Garoppolo are not the only players to have had rough stretches in practice before. Aaron Rodgers threw five interceptions in a six-practice span in 2015 before having just eight of them during the regular season. Tom Brady had a forgettable practice on the eve of his 40th birthday in 2017 and went on to be named league MVP later that same year. And Garoppolo himself threw interceptions on five straight pass attempts last summer; he later led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
“Every [interception] is different. I wouldn’t say they’re all in one category or the next, but whenever you throw an interception — whether it’s you testing something out or giving a guy a chance — you never want to throw the interception in the first place,” said Garoppolo when speaking to reporters three years ago. This point of view was echoed by Brian Hoyer earlier this week when he said that practice is “where we’re trying to figure out our teammates.”
New England’s current quarterback room is in the process of doing just that as well.
Just take a look at Stidham’s intended targets on his six interceptions over the last three days: Damiere Byrd, who was signed as a free agent this offseason and figures to play a prominent role as a perimeter receiver for the Patriots this year, was targeted on four of the picks; Devin Ross, in his first training camp with the team after arriving as a practice squad acquisition last October, was Stidham’s intended receiver on the other two interceptions.
This is not an excuse for Stidham’s turnovers, but rather additional context to consider in regards to the statements made by Garoppolo three years ago and Hoyer just this week.
As for Garoppolo, he was obviously not trying to throw interceptions in practice but did throw them nevertheless. His growth and confidence to lead New England’s and later San Francisco’s offense were not hurt by them, though, and he was able to bounce back nicely once the lights came on and he entered the field for preseason games and the at first occasional regular season contests.
Stidham does not have the benefit of playing exhibition football this year, but will still have to show the same mental strength as Garoppolo to turn the page quickly. Otherwise, he will probably not stay alive in the team’s ongoing quarterback competition for long.