With the Deflategate saga finally finished, all eyes are on Jimmy Garoppolo in anticipation of his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, arguably New England’s toughest test all-season. He will be the Patriots starting quarterback for the month of September, a quarter of the season.
Can he be the starter after Brady? Will he cost the Patriots games? And the very stupid, but necessary question: could he push Brady for the starting quarterback position within the next year or two?
Ok, the last question probably is not worth asking, especially after Belichick clarified in his first preseason press conference that Brady would be the starter in Week 5 when the Patriots head to Cleveland. But nonetheless, Garoppolo’s performance seems to be the most followed storyline of camp, and wrongfully so.
In 2008, Brady went down in the first game of the season forcing Matt Cassel to take the reigns, leading New England to an 11-5 record and barely missing the playoffs. That year, New England had an above-average defense with Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel anchoring them. More importantly though, Pro Bowl offensive linemen Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen started all 16 games. When you factor in future Hall of Famer Randy Moss and emerging Wes Welker, Cassel had little to worry about around him.
“This is an important, key time for us in terms of getting the rust off,” Bill Belichick said on Thursday during training camp.
Although Garoppolo’s weapons are better than Cassel’s, the offensive line is still a huge question mark. The return of longtime Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia should improve the situation as well as the return of Nate Solder at left tackle. However, Bryan Stork is reportedly dealing with another concussion meaning the Patriots may have to lean on an inexperienced lineman, similar to last season.
“I’m so glad to be out here, my body is feeling great and that’s a blessing,” Solder said after the first day of camp.
In years passed, the offensive line has been the most important variable in determining the Patriots’ offensive success. Last year, under Dave DeGuglielmo, the Patriots offensive line put in a pitiful performance against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. More memorably, a worn-down Patriots line succumbed to Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, and Osi Umenyiora in Super Bowl XLII.
Without good protection, it doesn’t matter who is behind center for the Patriots.