CHANLDER, Ariz. (CBS) — In all likelihood, he will be on the field for exactly zero plays in Super Bowl XLIX. But if the Patriots come out as champions, Jimmy Garoppolo will be a major reason why.
The Patriots’ defense faces the challenge of trying to contain and limit Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, while the rookie backup quarterback will be tasked this week with playing the role of Wilson during practice.
Considering how diverse Wilson is as a passer, runner, scrambler and on-the-fly innovator, imitating him may be the most difficult job of the week.
“That’s part of Jimmy’s role, and he’s gotta do a great job of that for our team,” said Tom Brady, who himself hasn’t taken on backup duties in quite some time. “And it’s hard to duplicate Russell Wilson; there’s only one Russell Wilson. He does some phenomenal things at his position. It’s really about trying to get the look, trying to run the right plays, make the right decisions so that the defense has a good understanding of really what they’re going to see.”
Of course, when it comes to duplicating Russell Wilson, Garoppolo and the Patriots coaching staff will be trying to copy the quarterback who threw 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions all season while also rushing for 849 yards and six TDs, and they won’t be copying the quarterback who uncharacteristically threw four interceptions two weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game.
The Patriots know how dangerous Wilson can be, and they know that while his statistics may not jump off the page, his 42-13 record as a starter is not an anomaly. The kid just knows how to make big plays in big moments.
“We don’t know how long any given pass play will be,” said safety Devin McCourty. “With Russell Wilson, you can talk about containing him to keep him in the pocket, but how many snaps they had … it’s impossible, really, to say that we’re going to keep him in the pocket the whole game. We want to, but the guy’s too good of a player and too good at what he does to say we’re going to do that.
“So we’re going to have to plaster [receivers] for the times he does get out of the pocket and extend a play, because if we start to relax, he’ll find somebody. He always does.”
McCourty, the last line of defense in the Patriots secondary, knows that in one quick moment, Wilson can completely change a game.
“It’s tough because there’s no hesitation from them,” McCourty said. “They know what they got back there at quarterback, they know he’s a guy that, whether it’s a three-step drop, can turn it into a 60-yard bomb because he’ll make a guy miss and he’ll take off up field on a throw.”
And so, the difficult challenge of emulating the quarterback with unprecedented success falls on the shoulders of the 23-year-old Garoppolo.
The rookie’s mind-set in approaching that challenge? Play fast.
“I tried to get as fast as I could, as fast as I can,” Garoppolo said. “He’s an athletic guy, but I try to do a good job of giving them a look of extending some plays. Russell’s a heck of a player, he’s got a great deep ball, he can extend plays, make runs on his own. And I try to help the defense with that.”
While imitating Wilson’s style is no picnic, Garoppolo has had his hands full this year, as the Patriots faced Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, to name some. His work in practice all year should help him with his task for Super Bowl week. It’s been a wild year, from getting unexpectedly drafted by the Patriots, to hearing his name bandied about as the eventual replacement for Tom Brady, to having people call for that change to happen “sooner than later” after a rocky start for Brady, to finally settling into his firm role as the backup quarterback.
“It’s just a little bit different. Every week’ s different,” Garoppolo said. “One quarterback might run a lot this week, the next one might not run at all. So it just keeps me on my toes I guess.”
As for the job Garoppolo’s done so far, the understudy has the approval of the star.
“Jimmy got off to a great start the other day,” Brady said. “We’re going to need three more days of it this week.”
It is those three days of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that for just one player on the Patriots roster will be infinitely more important than Sunday.