Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing the role of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in practice the last week-plus. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
CHANDLER, Ariz. — When it comes to preparing the Patriots’ defense for Sunday’s Super Bowl, some of the most vital individuals won’t even see the field during the game.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is playing the role of Seattle’s Russell Wilson, while a crew of backup running backs — including Jonas Gray — have been trying to replicate the work of Marshawn Lynch. And a trio of young receivers in Josh Boyce, Brian Tyms and Jonathan Krause have tried their best to prepare Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington for Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.
How good a job they did preparing the New England defense over the course of the two-week run-up to the game will play a sizable role in how the Patriots fare on Sunday.
In terms of prepping for the role of Wilson, Garoppolo said he’s been able to watch extra film on the Seattle superstar, and has come away impressed.
“He’s a very, very talented quarterback,” he said. “He can do a lot of things — he can run, he can throw a deep ball, the intermediate stuff. He extends plays with his feet. He’s a heck of a player. So re-enacting him for the defense, it’s pretty tough. But I think I’ve been giving them a pretty good look.”
It’s been the same story all year long.
“As a group, we put in a little extra time every week trying to get that look down to the best of our ability,” Garoppolo said. “The better look we give them during the week, the better they will be able to play on Sunday.”
According to Tyms, working on providing the best possible look is a collaborative effort between the scout teamer and the player who will line up opposite him.
“It’s hard to implement a receivers’ moves because everybody is their own person,” Tyms said. “But for the most part, we try and communicate as far as on certain routes, ‘Does he use that release?’ So on certain routes, I will hit them a certain way. At the same time, I’m still trying to win. I don’t want to give anyone anything easy, because this game, no one gives you anything easy. Especially at this level. There’s a lot of communication.
“When we’re on scout team, we really, honestly, try and go hard at our defense. I’m not trying to go through the motions. Nobody does,” he added. “Me, Jimmy, Josh, nobody does. We’re really trying to go at them like it’s a game. So we figure the harder we go, the harder they have to go, and the better we make them. The better they make us, because we’re going against the best DBs in the game right now. That’s the mindset.”
Scout team can oftentimes be a thankless job, but if handled correctly, can lead to bigger and better things. In his rookie year, Tom Brady used a solid season working as the scout team quarterback too climb the depth chart and eventually supplant Drew Bledsoe as the starter. It’s all about making the most of your opportunities.
“You’re going against a starting defense every day, and you’re working on your craft,” said Gray, who has replicated several running backs over the course of the season including Minnesota‘s Adrian Peterson. “No matter what you’re working on, if you’re imitating one running back, you’re working on that part of your craft. Imitating another running back, you’re working on that part too. It’s cool just to have an opportunity just to have a chance to work on your strengths and your weaknesses.”
Garoppolo said Wednesday that while there’s always guys shuffled on and off the scout team because of personnel moves, they have managed to forge a nice bond among many who have stuck around over the course of the season.
“We always have guys bouncing in and out on scout team, so it’s little different than the starters. But we try to work together,” Garoppolo said. “We’re a nice little unit: me, the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs. All of us. We all do a great job working together. We try and make it into really like our offensive period. We’re trying to give them a look, but at the same time, we’re trying to perfect our skill too. It benefits both sides of the ball. If you have that mindset going into it, it will benefit you too.”