Foxborough, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - This time last year, New England Patriots fans were just getting to know their team's second-round draft choice.
A year later, the Patriots might need to lean on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 2013 Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback out of Eastern Illinois, a wee bit more if starter Tom Brady receives a suspension from the NFL.
It is generally expected NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will suspend Brady in the wake of the Deflategate investigation. NFL-appointed attorney Ted Wells wrote in a report released last week that Brady was "generally aware" that two Patriots employees "participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee" during the team's 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
Garoppolo, 23, was Brady's backup last season when the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. He appeared in parts of six regular-season games - completing 19-of-27 attempts for 182 yards and one touchdown - as well as at the end of the Deflategate win.
Learning of a possible suspension of Brady well before training camp would likely propel the Patriots to add another veteran quarterback to the roster. Garrett Gilbert, signed to the team's practice squad last December, is the Patriots' only other quarterback.
Some of the free agent signal callers whose names have been floated as potential candidates for the Patriots are Matt Flynn, Michael Vick, Jason Campbell and Tarvaris Jackson.
But Garoppolo is preparing himself as well. He was drafted by the team to be groomed as a potential successor to Brady.
It's just the Patriots didn't expect to have a need at QB as early as the 2015 season.