Most Patriots fans are aware that Jimmy Garoppolo will be the team's starting quarterback if Tom Brady's four-game suspension does not get eliminated during his upcoming appeal hearing with Roger Goodell. Most aren't as up to speed when it comes to Garoppolo's backup.
Garrett Gilbert arrived in Foxborough last December after being selected by the Rams in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and finished the season as a member of New England's practice squad. He stuck with the team throughout the playoffs and re-signed shortly after the Super Bowl. He then spent the following three months continuing the process of learning the offense and preparing himself for whatever may lie ahead.
He has not, however, given much to the notion of being a member of the active roster to start the season should Brady not be available.
"I think that would detrimental to the process here," said Gilbert, a 6-4, 221-pound from Austin, Texas. "My goal and my aim is to control what I can control and try to improve every day out here and become the best quarterback for this team that I possibly can and leave those things to the others that control them and deal with that later."
Gilbert may not be a household name but he's been around NFL quarterbacks his whole life. His father, Gale, played eight seasons in the NFL as a backup in Seattle, Buffalo and San Diego. He had the not-so-flattering distinction of being on five consecutive teams that lost the Super Bowl – four with the Bills and the last with the Chargers.
Garrett Gilbert began his collegiate career at Texas and relieved an injured Colt McCoy in the national championship game as a freshman in 2009 against Alabama. He passed for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns but also threw four picks in the loss, and then was the Longhorns starter in 2010. He completed 59 percent of his passes as a sophomore but threw 17 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns. A shoulder injury cause him to lose the starting job in 2011 and he ultimately transferred to SMU, where he finished his career.
That's where he enjoyed another connection to the big time playing for former NFL quarterback and coach June Jones. Jones is known more for the run-and-shoot attack, which is not necessarily similar to traditional NFL offenses, but Gilbert enjoys the fact that he's had plenty of professional experience to lean on during his career.
"My Dad will always be my first coach. I remember distinctly last year, I was learning a different offense [St. Louis] but we were at home in Austin during the month off between mini-camp and training camp taking dry erase markers and drawing stuff up on the windows and talking through some stuff to try to help me verbalize things and learn it and talk him through it. It's a blessing to have that opportunity and it's something I'm very grateful for.
"We were more run and shoot in college and this is different. There's more responsibility on the quarterback and I think that's going to be the way it is anywhere you go at the professional level as compared to college. So there's definitely a learning curve and an adjustment but that's something that excites me, it's something I've found to be very fun in my time here in my year and change – being able to come out here and accept the challenge of learning all this stuff and taking on that responsibility."
It will be interesting to see if he gets the opportunity to add to his responsibilities moving forward. During the two OTAs the media has been allowed to watch, Gilbert's action has been limited to drills and individual work. When the offense has conducted 7-on-7 and full team work, the reps have gone exclusively to Brady and Garoppolo.
Nonetheless Gilbert remains the only other quarterback on the roster, and the free agent market doesn't have many attractive options. Veterans such as Jason Campbell are available, but none with any experience in the Patriots system, which, limited as it may be, Gilbert has.
"It's been a great learning experience. I'm still trying to learn as much as I can out here every day,' he said. "Every day we're out here, I'm trying to become the best quarterback I can be and getting more and more comfortable with the system. It's been an ongoing process.
"At the end of last year I got a good base but it is an ongoing process out here continuing every day trying to get where I want to be with my comfort level. For me it's about being able to take what Coach [Josh] McDaniels says every day in meetings and try to take it out there and improve a couple of things every day."