We know with virtual certainty that Jimmy Garoppolo will be New England's starting quarterback for the first four games of the 2016 regular season, while Tom Brady serves his NFL-imposed suspension. What's less clear after two weeks of training camp is whether the third-year passer is ready to guide New England's offense in Brady's stead.
After a relatively hot start to camp, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been seemingly less sharp in recent practices. He admitted as much after the second of two joint sessions with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday.
"There's always room for improvement. As a quarterback, especially as a young quarterback, I'm only going into my third year, so there's always room for improvement; little things here and there that you just pick up on and correct the next day. You just want to be sharp, especially tomorrow night when [the preseason] game time comes around."
When asked if he's happy with where his is at the moment in his development, Garoppolo responded, "We're moving in the right direction, I'll say that.
"Being a quarterback, you have to have a short memory. Bad things are going to happen, that's how football is, so you have to respond the right way to it. There are 10 other guys in that huddle looking at you, so you have to respond the right way."
Barring some unspeakable disaster, Garoppolo will be in the huddle as the starting quarterback come opening night in Arizona on Sept. 11. As for Thursday's preseason opener against New Orleans?
"I don't know," he insisted. "Your guess is as good as mine."
A little Brees-y
Contrast Garoppolo's answer to that of Saints quarterback Drew Brees when a reporter wondered how much action he'll see at Gillette on Thursday night.
"I've been told a series or so."
View a collection of the best images from the Patriots joint practice with the New Orleans Saints in Foxborough on Wednesday, August 10, 2016.
The long-time veteran was equally candid about his personal relationship with Brady. The two have known one another since their college days in the Big 10 Conference – Brady a University of Michigan grad, Brees a Purdue University alum. They first faced one another during a memorable encounter at Michigan's "Big House."
"We actually reminisced on that a little bit because the [chilly, rainy] weather today was the exact same as it was for that [Purdue-Michigan] game. He kind of smoked us that day, though," Brees laughed.
"From playing against him in college to the times we've played in the NFL, but not only that, certainly I have a ton of respect for what he's been able to accomplish and how he's gone about doing it – a guy who came in the league as a sixth-round pick, his first opportunity to start, that resulted in the Super Bowl year, and he hasn't slowed down since then. This is going on Year 17 for him, Year 16 for me. I know how thankful I am, and appreciative, certainly don't take it for granted. I think he feels the same way.
"I think we're both thankful for the opportunities that we've been given. From knowing him and his approach, I think we both understand we have to prove it each and every time out. We're in the business of winning. I think we both have high expectations as to how long we can play."
Where Brees was less forthcoming was in revealing his secret for playing at a high level in the NFL for as long as he and Brady have.
"[Brady] has a philosophy that's worked for him for a long time, I have one that's worked for me for a long time. So, I don't know exactly," he smirked. "There's probably some stuff that all of us keep close to the vest. Some little secret sauce. We'll just leave it at that."
Look, Hoo's back
A number of Saints players are familiar with the practice facilities here in Foxborough, this having been their third visit to Gillette for joint practices since 2010. None more so than tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He spent three seasons with the Patriots before being dealt to New Orleans last September.
"Absolutely. Good to see familiar faces, practicing against one of the best [teams]. It's good to be back," he declared after Wednesday's session.
Hooman, as he was known during his days in New England, said he's enjoyed catching up with former Patriots teammates over the past couple of days.
"I had a great three years here, made some lasting relationships. It's great to see those guys and coaches. I'm very appreciative of those three years and what they did for me as a football player and a person, too."
He added that he's "learned a lot" from "two of the greatest [QBs] of all time" in Brady and Brees.
"Tom's a little taller, that's about it," he joked when asked to describe how the two stars are different.
Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand delivered an inspirational message to the Patriots and Saints following their joint practice on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. The players also heard from Boston Marathon bombing survivor Celeste Corcoran and Jami Goldman Marseilles, a double amputee marathoner.
There was a poignant end to joint practices when both head coaches brought their teams together in the far right corner of the double fields. There, Saints and Patriots players spent several minutes with Eric LeGrand. You may recall the story of LeGrand, a former Rutgers player who was paralyzed during a game against Army in 2010. Though he remains wheelchair-bound, his subsequent recovery has led to two books about his experience and numerous other awards and public appearances.
LeGrand was also teammates at Rutgers with Patriots defenders Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, and Jonathan Freeny, which may have made the reunion that much more meaningful for those particular players.
"I've heard of his story, but I had never met him in person," Garoppolo remarked. "To meet a guy like that, it's pretty amazing what he's doing; very, very inspirational. His goal, I've heard from some of the Rutgers guys, is to walk off the field at MetLife [Stadium, where he was injured]. More power to him. That's unbelievable."
"Just to see his faith and drive," defensive end Trey Flowers noted, "and how he continues to believe that he will walk again, it just reminds us, 'Don't take this game for granted.'"