One of the least-heralded jobs in football is the scout team. In practice, backups run plays against the starting units to simulate what that week's opponent's starters are likely to do.
So, for example, this week, many Patriots on offense who normally don't get much game action were replicating the starters on Denver's offense to give New England's first-team defense a good "look" in 11-on-11 team periods.
The job of imitating Peyton Manning, therefore, fell to the only other QB than Tom Brady on New England's roster, rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. No small feat, as Manning is not only one of the greatest passers in NFL history, he's also one of the most animated before the snap. Manning makes multiple calls, checks, and audiles, and does so with often exaggerated hand gestures, arm waving, and shouting.
"There's no real way you can actually get that, obviously," linebacker Dont'a Hightower remarked, "but I feel like the scout team did a really good job this week as far as getting the ball out quick and doing some of the things that [the Broncos] do to a tee. Everybody did a good job this week of playing a role."
"There's so much," admitted Garoppolo. "I'm sure I didn't do it to a tee, but I did it the best I can. You just watch film on a guy, try to pick up his tendencies. It's been a good experience. Not many QBs do what he does at the line of scrimmage. At certain times, we were trying to push it, catch the defense off guard. They're going to be in that situation in the game."
One call that Manning for which Manning has become famous is "Omaha!" – something the Patriots and Brady used to use frequently a while ago. That was one idiosyncrasy that Garoppolo didn't mimic this week.
"But he got all the mannerisms that Peyton does," Hightower was quick to point out. "He did a really good job with that. He usually does give us a great week no matter who we're playing.
"I thought it was a pretty good week. We try to approach every week like any other week, but this week is a little bit more of a challenge. You know, Peyton Manning is a really good quarterback. I definitely feel like we got on top of it. You can never do too much. These next couple of days are going to be mental days."
"It has started on the practice field," cornerback Kyle Arrington asserted. "Guys are extremely focused, put a lot of hard work into this week, as far as preparation goes."
When kickoff arrives at 4:25 Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, it will mark the 16th time Brady and Manning have squared off in the NFL, with Brady currently holding a 10-5 advantage over Manning. Garoppolo recalled watching many of those contests as a young fan, and now he'll have one of the best seats in the house for the latest clash between the two future Hall of Famers.
"They've faced off a lot. I have a lot of memories," Garoppolo said Friday. "Being a quarterback, it's cool to see other quarterbacks be successful and have such a rivalry like they have. It's going to be a hell of a game on Sunday."