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Garoppolo becomes center of attention for Patriots

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The quarterback has been the focal point in New England for more than two decades.

But the quarterbacks — plural — have never really been the story.

Drew Bledsoe was the star of the team until a freak injury saw him turn the reins over to Tom Brady in early 2001. By the time the following training camp rolled around, Bledsoe was gone and Brady was a Super Bowl MVP.

Every summer since then, No. 12 has been the clear No. 1 attraction in Foxborough.

Now, though, while the focus of fans and media this summer remains on the guy throwing the ball, it’s not just Brady in that spotlight.

The ongoing Deflategate saga and, as of now, Brady’s four-game suspension to open the season has turned second-year second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo into the guy who drew the biggest media crowd after New England’s first practice of training camp. (Of course that’s due, in part, to the fact that Brady did not speak and has not done so since February.)

While Brady took his normal practice reps and the two passers split time 50-50 in the hot summer sun on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, the fact that it could be Garoppolo under center when the defending Super Bowl champions open the NFL season on Thursday, Sept. 10, has put the young, unproven passer in the media crosshairs.

And the first question the man who’s barely a year removed from an FCS offense that didn’t even have a playbook faced was a simple yet difficult one: Are you ready to start the season if Brady’s suspension isn’t resolved through the courts?

“We’re not really looking that far ahead,” Garoppolo deflected in true Patriots fashion. “I don’t think anyone is. It’s the first day of training camp; got out here with the guys and it felt good to get out here with all of them.”

He did the same when asked for his reaction to Brady’s suspension.

“You know, not much of a reaction to it, really,” Garoppolo said. “Just stayed focused on what I can control and what I’m trying to learn right now and improve on.”

And Garoppolo is living and speaking the life that head coach Bill Belichick wants all of his players to lead this time of year in the heat of training camp, uncertain playing situation or not.

“Just take it one day at a time. You can’t focus on everything at once because it will overwhelm you, so you just got to take it one day at a time, focus on the little things and focus on improving,” Garoppolo said in what might have actually been the most revealing of his responses on Thursday.

Make no mistake, Brady is still the story in Foxborough. Will he play or won’t he? What will his reps be this summer as Belichick prepares two potential starters for the first time in his 16 training camps in New England?

But the possibility of Brady not starting the opener has catapulted the young, naive backup Garoppolo into the middle of the biggest story in the NFL these days. It’s a spotlight he’ll remain in until the Brady situation is resolved, one way or the other.

Just don’t think Belichick will admit that he’s facing an uncertain quarterback situation or that it might require a more unique dispersal of reps this summer.

“Right now, we’re practicing for today. That’s all I’m thinking about,” Belichick said. “I’m not thinking about a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now, six months from now. I’ll leave all that up to you guys and the experts. Just today.”

And just for today, the Patriots’ quarterbacks equally split the reps, with Brady taking the lead role. Still, Garoppolo was very much under the watchful eye of the media and fans more than any quarterback not named Brady or Bledsoe has been in New England since the days before the Patriots were the dominant franchise in the league with four Lombardis in the trophy case.


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