Backup quarterbacks aren't normally the center of attention on a football team, but when the starter's status is in jeopardy, that changes the equation.
Jimmy Garoppolo is learning this first-hand this summer. As Tom Brady's understudy, he might be thrust into a starting role sooner than expected if Brady is unsuccessful in his court effort to overturn a looming four-game NFL suspension. Brady has yet to address the media this summer, leaving that habitual task to the second-year QB behind him on the depth chart.
"It's just like any other week," Garoppolo insisted. "Going out there, going to practice, trying to get prepared for Carolina and just taking it day by day. It's a little shorter than usual, so we're kind of cramming some things in, but other than that we're just going about our business same as always."
Third preseason games are normally the ones in which a team's starters play the most significant amount of time. It will be curious, therefore, to see which passer gets more action on Friday in Charlotte: the reigning Super Bowl MVP or his still-developing backup.
Regardless, Garoppolo maintains that he's grateful for all the opportunities he's been given thus far in training camp and the preseason to get ready for a potential month-long stint as Brady's replacement.
"It's definitely beneficial. Every rep counts. Practice, game, whatever it may be, you've got to go in there and take advantage of the opportunity that you get. It's coming along. Each day is a new task. You want to tackle things differently day by day. We're kind of getting out of the training camp mode and into the regular season mode, so kind of adjusting to that now."
Garoppolo also revealed that the dynamic between himself and Brady has improved from last season to this.
"Knowing him for a year, we've obviously become closer and everything, but he's gone about his business the same way as always – just getting prepared and attacking training camp like the rest of us. I'd say we've gotten to know each other better, so we're more comfortable with one another."
More importantly, is Garoppolo getting any more comfortable with his role as the potential face of the Super Bowl champs, even on a temporary basis? With a veteran's savvy, he answered that question, as a swarm of people, cameras, and microphones crowded around him and his locker.
"At Eastern Illinois we had the same amount of media," he japed. "No, I'm just kidding. It's been a little bit of an adjustment. I'm getting more and more used to it as we go, but it comes with the job I guess. You've got to get used to it. Yeah, there's a lot of behind the scenes stuff that goes on that you don't really know about until you're in the spotlight I guess, but you can have fun with it, right?"
Welcome back, Wendy
Interior o-lineman Ryan Wendell came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) on Tuesday when he suited up for practice for the first time this summer.
The offensive line has been one of the most battered on the Patriots roster this summer, meaning a number of lesser-known players have been called on to see action in practices and preseason contests. Wendell, who could be in a fight for his starting job, if not a roster spot, finds himself now far behind his competition. Yet he maintained a magnanimous, philosophical outlook when that fact was pointed out to him.
"I think you can't spend any time worrying about things you can't control," he declared. "The only thing I can control is doing the work I have each day. Believe me, I've had plenty of work to do each day. That's all I can do.
"We've made adjustments, guys have stepped up. So, I don't have any doubts that the guys on our team now will do well going forward."
Wendell wouldn't hazard a guess as to when he might be ready to play in a game again – "Ask Bill," was his prepared response to the expected question – but he showed a sense of humor when asked how impatient he's been to get back on the field.
"I think every player wants to be on the field every snap. You know, I've been trying to let Bill get me on defense and special teams," Wendell quipped. "I'm sure I'd be terrible at all of them."
You, too, Chandler
Tight end Scott Chandler also made a return to practice this week and spoke briefly with media prior to today's activity outside.
"Just trying to get through this training camp grind, taking it a day at a time," he said.
Chandler, an 8-year veteran in his first season with the Patriots, missed several practices and the first two preseason game with what appeared to be a knee injury. He echoed what Wendell expressed about the frustration of being on the sidelines at this time of year.
"I think something you've learned is, you've got to control what you can control. Don't let something you can't do affect what you can. As a football player, I want to be able to practice and play whenever I can."
Does he feel far behind after being out since early August?
"I don't know. We'll see. There are still a lot of days ahead of us.
Wide receiver Josh Boyce was a notable absentee from Wednesday's practice. He and rookie CB Jimmy Jean were added to the missing list.
On the other hand, LB Dekoda Watson returned to practice after missing Tuesday's session. He went down to the lower field after stretching to work on conditioning exercises.
That means the Patriots were missing a net of 11 players from today's workout. The other nine were the same as yesterday: WR Brandon LaFell, rookie CB Darryl Roberts (wrist), LB Dane Fletcher, OL Marcus Cannon, OL Chris Barker, C Bryan Stork, DL Joe Vellano, TE Jake Bequette, and DL Chris Jones.
Meanwhile, a few of the younger players on the roster changed their jersey numbers prior to practice. Most notably, LB James Morris went from 49 to 59. And believe it or not, one player actually made the digit swap during practice.
Newcomer Michael Williams, the offensive lineman who arrived today in a trade with Detroit, was wearing jersey number 74 at the start of practice, but switched to 85 after stretching. He then joined the tight ends (Williams played the position at Alabama) and took part in drills with them, even catching a couple of passes.
"Big, athletic guy, has played tackle primarily at Detroit," was how head coach Bill Belichick described him earlier in the day. "So, we like his makeup, like his skills and we'll see how it fits."
Finally, during a WR-DB drill involving the quarterbacks, WR Aaron Dobson caught a nice over-the-shoulder touchdown from Tom Brady, beating veteran CB Tarell Brown. The defender and his DB teammates immediately hit the ground and started doing pushups while hearing some taunts from Brady. The play happened at the end of that particular drill period, so, there apparently was some sort of wager on the line. Brown's position coach, Josh Boyer, took to his players' defense, firing back at Brady with some good-natured ribbing of his own. It was a good example of the friendly competitive spirit that's prevalent on this team.