Patriots

Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Jimmy Garoppolo

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Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Jimmy Garoppolo

Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. Yesterday, Chandler Jones got us started at No. 10. Today (dramatic pause . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . wait . . . )

9. JIMMY GAROPPOLO

Why? Because it’s quite possible Jimmy G will play an important role for the Pats, and not as the scout team quarterback (for which he got rave reviews a season ago). With Tom Brady currently facing a four-game suspension, and the uncertainty that surrounds the appeal and a possible trip to federal court, the Pats will have to get the second-year pro ready for more than a cameo. The Patriots' schedule in the first four weeks: Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, Jacksonville and at Dallas. That’s no walk in the park. The Pats can’t afford a sluggish start, which means Garoppolo is going to have do more than manage a game. He’s going to have to make winning plays.

Previous Performance: We got multiple regular-season looks at Garoppolo in his rookie year: A fourth-quarter effort against Kansas City in that one-sided Chiefs rout (6-of-7, 70 yards, 1 TD), a 3-for-3 outing for 22 yards against the Bears (Pats won, 51-23) and then a start in the meaningless regular-season finale at home versus the Bills. It was a mix of good and bad, where Garoppolo showed playmaking ability but also a tendency to hold the ball too long.

Questions surrounding the player: Experience, clearly, although Bill Belichick made sure Garoppolo got more snaps than previous Brady backup Ryan Mallett ever did. Also, it's a big leap from Eastern Illinois to the NFL. Yes, having a full year in the system helps, but now teams will game plan to take away what you do best. Can JG make the necessary adjustments? Finally, how will Garoppolo handle the constant questions when camp starts, and Brady’s situation drags on? This is far from an ideal situation, except for a coaching staff well-versed on ignoring the noise.

Overall Outlook: Josh McDaniels is a big fan of Garoppolo. Devin McCourty told us last year, somewhat wide-eyed, that Garoppolo is already really good. That’s been echoed by plenty of the skill position players. Now’s his chance to show it, and while I do believe they’ll be some rocky moments (nothing looks like Brady running this offense), the kid is confident and I don’t see the Pats emerging from that potential four-game stretch with anything less than two wins. I’d say three, but there's the matter of the Pats' revamped secondary going into Dallas . . . 

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Patriots-Steelers tale of the tape

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Patriots-Steelers tale of the tape

0:41 - The BST crew breaks down the Celtics’ 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz. A. Sherrod Blakely joins Tom Giles from the TD Garden and Michael Holley and Kayce Smith analyze Gordon Hayward’s pregame comments about his recovery and return.

8:07 - Do Bill Belichick and the Patriots attempt to shut down Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown this weekend against the Steelers? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss and Phil Perry and Kayce Smith break down the matchup with this week’s tale of the tape.

14:36 - The Red Sox watched another slugger get scooped up, as the Philadelphia Phillies signed Carlos Santana. Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles discuss Boston’s interest in still-available J.D. Martinez and how much he could cost the club.

Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

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Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

The Patriots final injury report before their showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday includes 10 players listed as questionable and defensive lineman Alan Branch ruled out.

Branch, who hurt his knee in the Monday night loss to the Dolphins, missed three days of practice this week. Among the questionable are linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who didn't play against Miami. Tom Brady (Achilles), Brandon Cooks (hand) and Malcolm Butler (ankle) have been removed from the injury report. 

Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) among the Steelers listed as questionable. The full injury report: