New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged on Wednesday that Jimmy Garoppolo will have to start the first four games of the season at quarterback and said the top priority of training camp would be to get the former backup ready.
"We have finally some definition with Tom's situation," Belichick said of Tom Brady before declining to comment further on the "Deflategate" scandal that engulfed the NFL and one of its most successful franchises for 18 months.
"Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back, but in the meantime we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that'll be to get Jimmy ready to go."
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Brady was suspended four games and the team was docked $1 million and two draft picks for what the league said was a scheme to illegally deflate the footballs used in the 2015 AFC championship game.
The four-time Super Bowl champion was supposed to sit out the first four games last season, but appeals dragged it out through this summer.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Brady this month, and the quarterback said he would not pursue an unlikely appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. Belichick said he didn't change what he was doing to track the ups and downs of the saga.
"Really I never dealt with it until I would say the decision has been made that looks like, 'This is what it's going to be,'" he said.
"It's been in some version of litigation, appeal, appeal depending on how the litigation goes. It's been in the same place for a year and a half, basically. There's definition to it now. We'll move forward based on that definition."
Moving forward means that Garoppolo will need to start against Arizona on Sept. 11, and then again against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Belichick refused to say how he would split up the reps in practice so that both Brady and Garoppolo can get the needed work in.
"We'll find out," he said.
Brady is allowed to practice with the team during training camp and play in any preseason games. During the suspension, he will not be allowed any contact with team officials or to work out with teammates.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater said having Brady around during camp will be helpful.
"We're definitely thankful that he's around now, and I think he brings so much to the table," he said. "There's so much that we can learn from having him around."
Safety Devin McCourty said Brady's absence won't change how the team plays defense.
"Even when you play with the greatest quarterback, we don't go out there saying, 'We only have to play OK because Tom is here,'" McCourty said.
"As a defense, we want to be a dominating defense no matter what the situation is and no matter who is out there on offense. We always kind of take the mentality and attitude that we have to go out there and play defense no matter if the offense is scoring touchdowns."