FOXBORO - Long before there was Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois produced a stud quarterback who didn’t get so much as a cup of coffee in the NFL. A fella by the name of Sean Payton.
The current Saints coach still holds school marks in both passing yards and total offense for a single game, but many of his other records were eclipsed by Garoppolo, now trying to pilot a Patriots offense that will be without Tom Brady for the first four games of the regular season.
“You’re able to follow some guys from your old school and I’d like to think that maybe some of my contributions bought him a football or a helmet back in college,” joked Payton, in town with New Orleans for joint practices against the Pats in advance of Thursday’s preseason opener at Gillette Stadium.
Payton has now seen Garoppolo up close for two consecutive summers in this setting, but he has a much deeper base of knowledge when it comes to the man everyone in New England is watching and waiting on. Payton and his scouts did a great deal of research on Garoppolo the year he entered the draft.
“I can only reference just the draft process and watching him a little bit in joint practices a year ago or now,” said Payton. “Look, I think he came through it. He’s bright. He had had a lot of success in college - you know his teams there were successful - and you know he was able to really have good production. He’s got good arm strength and a quick release. Sometimes it’s tough because so many of these college offenses are spread out and throwing it on every down, but I thought overall we had a high grade on him, and obviously New England [did], and I’m sure a number of teams did.”
Payton touched on a variety of other subjects, including why the Saints and Patriots continue to meet in this environment. Certainly, trust is a major factor.
“Both teams did a good job of competing and keeping each other up,” he noted. “I’ve said this to our locals [media], this is our fourth time working out, having joint practices with New England, and the prior ones have gone well.”
That includes Tuesday’s workout, the first of two between the teams. Payton, like his counterpart Bill Belichick, sees these days as a real chance to test and evaluate the players.
“When you’re able to see a different look, get a bit of a different puzzle, the front is different, technique is different. You have a chance to sharpen your skill set,” he said. “The timing is always important. We’ve kinda gone through close to two weeks maybe back at our training camp, so I think for every position group, you’re kinda seeing different people and your seeing technique played differently and I think that’s helpful.”
While Payton seemed pleased with his team’s work, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gathered most of his top offensive players late in practice and was reportedly displeased with the overall performance. Eight drops unquestionably were a part of the problem, as was the continued up-and-down performance from Garoppolo.