The pre-draft process has become almost ridiculous given the level of scrutiny players now find themselves under. Quarterbacks in particular are dissected like no other position. From size to arm strength to foot speed to hand size – one of the new-age items of interest at his year's Combine – passers are parsed with tremendous interest.
One trait that doesn't get much if any attention is eyesight, and Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo credited his for one of his best plays thus far in his career's infancy.
Like virtually all rookie quarterbacks, Garoppolo experienced more than his share of highs and lows during the Patriots first mini-camp practice on Tuesday. One thing that was easily apparent even to the layman is the ease with which Garoppolo throws the ball. His release appears quick and effortless, and he throws tight spirals with plenty on them for the most part. But one thing that is much less evident – and far more important – is the mental aspect of the position.
Garoppolo fired a perfect bomb to undrafted rookie Jeremy Johnson late in the day, hitting the receiver in stride down the right sideline about 45 yards downfield. Anyone watching could easily judge the accuracy of the ball, which beat decent coverage and barely forced Johnson to adjust at all as he continued toward to the end zone.
But listening to Garoppolo describe the play after practice may have been even more encouraging to those who believe he will someday supplant Tom Brady as the team's starter. Garoppolo was asked what he saw on the play and what led to this particular read.
"It was a good read," he said with a chuckle, suggesting that he was satisfied with the play. "It's just one of those things that you see the safeties rotate and you get your eyes in the right place and you have to have efficient eyes and I did that on that play."
Check out a selection of photos from Patriots mini-camp on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
With veteran backup Ryan Mallett out of the lineup once again for undisclosed reasons, it offered a chance for Garoppolo to enjoy plenty of reps during the two-hour session. As was the case a week earlier in OTAs, he enjoyed some bumps in the road as well. He was often seen firing the ball into the ground when he either didn't have an open receiver and couldn't find one in time.
Other plays saw his passes fail to connect with intended targets, but plays like the bomb to Johnson suggest the second-round pick may have what it takes to succeed. He displays a presence about him that all good quarterbacks seem to possess, and that air of confidence was easy to detect when listening to him talk about his day after practice.
In making the monumental jump from Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo's head is no doubt spinning due to the speed with which the game is currently played. But you'd be hard-pressed to notice many signs of the rookie being overwhelmed by his surroundings thus far.
"I don't even know if you can compare the two. It's night and day," he said when asked about the differences between offseason work at Eastern Illinois and the Patriots. "We come out here, it's gorgeous out here, had a great day of practice. What else would you rather be doing?"
Garoppolo said he's leaned on both Brady and Mallett for advice on and off the field, and that he's enjoyed working with the offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and his staff.
"Brady and Mallett are two guys who have been doing this for a while and they know the offense very well. They've helped me a tremendous amount," Garoppolo said. "Them and Josh and offensive assistant Jerry [Schuplinski] have done a tremendous job helping me."
"Josh is just like me, an energetic guy. He loves the offense, loves football and we go out there and have a great time every day."
Interestingly, Garoppolo suggested he's learned as much from watching Brady as he has from talking to the two-time MVP.
"Without a doubt," Garoppolo said. "Guys look to him as a coach on the field. That's what you want in a quarterback. Watching and learning what he does -- not so much what he tells me -- but watching his mannerisms and everything, I've learned a lot."
Most consider the modern NFL a passing league and many believe the game is in the midst of a golden age of quarterbacks. With youngsters like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick enjoying early success in their careers, there has been a change in some long-held beliefs when it comes to experience at the game's most important position.
Fortunately for Garoppolo, he won't likely have to play early in his career while he watches and learns under Brady. But like the Patriots star, the rookie has a poise and presence about him that will serve him well.
"You're expected to know everything and get people in the right spot, and take command," Garoppolo said. "That's what I'm trying to do. It's a process, that's for sure. It's one of those things, you have to take it day by day. Each day is different and you have to be consistently good, not occasionally good.
"There is a transition from the college to the NFL game, and it's just something you have to get used to. Great athletes do," he concluded.
Perhaps he'll one day take the torch from Brady, and perhaps that day will come sooner rather than later. But Garoppolo wasn't ready to discuss such things at this early juncture.
"It's just one of those things, you can't really focus on it," he said. "If you're focusing on that, you're focusing on the wrong things. My main focus was on coming out here, being very consistent -- day in and day out. It's a grind, and you have to come out here and do well each and every day."
On this day, Garoppolo's eyes had it.