HOUSTON — Jimmy Garoppolo feels the tug of home.
It’s usually voiced by his childhood friends from Arlington Heights, not satisfied with his status as the Patriots’ backup quarterback.
They ask him about starting for the Bears.
“All the time,” he said.
He’ll usually fire a joke back in their direction. It’s a question he’s used to answering — and has been asked this week, in between doing his best Matt Ryan impression during practice.
“It’s kinda one of those things,” he said this week. “During the season, I’m not really responding to them. Right now, it’s all Atlanta. We’ll see how it goes on Monday.”
The Patriots have reached their second Super Bowl in his three seasons, but he wants to lead a team into the Super Bowl as the starter.
“That’s been the dream since you were a little kid growing up,” said Garoppolo, an Eastern Illinois and Rolling Meadows High School alum. “You want to be the guy playing in the Super Bowl. It’s what you live for, really.”
Mentor Tom Brady is 39 but said Monday night that he didn’t see any end in sight to his career. Garoppolo is entering the last year of his contract, so this offseason is the Patriots’ last chance to move him. Their asking price figures to be substantial, based on the Eagles landing the Vikings’ 2017 first-round pick and 2018 fourth-rounder for Sam Bradford.
Garoppolo, though, has started only two games — while Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension to begin the season. But Garoppolo sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder with about four minutes left in the first half of the second game against the Dolphins.
His starter tape, then, is limited to five healthy quarters. And whichever team trades for him likely would sign him to a new deal before he plays a snap.
“Can you imagine? He might get traded and paid for playing just [two games] . . . it’s amazing,” NFL Network analyst and former 49ers and Lions coach Steve Mariucci said.
“We’re looking for the next franchise quarterback or Pro Bowl quarterback. If there’s an inkling of thought that he might be that guy, and he’s young, and we can get him — I hate to use the word ‘overpay,’ but that’s what you have to do.”
The Texans’ Brock Osweiler personifies such dangers, but the Bears can claim better knowledge of Garoppolo than most. They practiced alongside the Patriots for three days leading up to their preseason game, in which Garoppolo went 16-for-21 for 181 yards and a touchdown.
After one practice session, Garoppolo and Bears general manager Ryan Pace, a fellow Eastern Illinois alum, chatted for a few minutes.
Coach John Fox needs to win games in his third season, and Garoppolo, 25, wouldn’t have the same growing pains that a rookie would.
Garoppolo’s inexperience isn’t unusual, either. Two of the top three quarterback prospects have relatively few college starts — Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (23) and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky (13).
Pace said last week that he looks for three things in a quarterback.
“It’s your football intelligence, it’s your accuracy and it’s your ability to quickly process,” he said.
Garoppolo has shown all three — but in a limited audition.
“He’s learned how to be a professional,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose brother Ben is a Bears offensive assistant. “He’s learned how to approach this game. He now understands how difficult it is to be good.
“That’s an important thing for a young player — to cross that line and figure out, ‘It’s not going to come easy to me anymore.’ ”
Fifteen of Garoppolo’s family members and friends will attend the Super Bowl on Sunday.
His next game could be much closer to home.
Garoppolo sounds ready to be a starter, wherever it may be.
“I don’t want to sound cocky,” he said, “but as a quarterback, in the back of your mind, you always think you can do it.”
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