QB Garoppolo knows his strengths, weaknesses

Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo had plenty of bragging rights over new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when they talked this week at the Senior Bowl. But Garoppolo has had an immersion into different offensive schemes and techniques over the last month of his NFL crash course.

Jimmy Garoppolo has a number of characteristics that stand out, some good, others cause for further investigation and others neutral.

There is his lightning-quick release, the lack of experience under center, and a background at small-school Eastern Illinois.

Garoppollo, the 6-foot-2¼, 219-pound quarterback from Eastern Illinois, had plenty of ironic stories to share with new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer when the Vikings interviewed Garoppolo this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Garoppollo had scholarship offers from Illinois State, Montana State and Western Illinois, but he chose Eastern Illinois. Zimmer played quarterback and linebacker for Illinois State. When playing Zimmer's alma mater in 2013, Garoppolo set an Eastern Illinois record with seven touchdown tosses. Garoppolo played linebacker in high school, too, before his team needed a quarterback in his junior year and he was asked to fill the void.

"I always thought I would be a defensive guy. We didn't have a quarterback going into my junior year and coach asked me if I wanted to try it out and I was like, ‘Sure, why not?' The rest is history," he said.

The history, however, is record-setting history. In his senior season, he threw for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions and had 11 games with 300 yards passing or more, including five with 400 or more. For his career, he finished with 13,156 yards and 118 touchdowns.

Despite those gaudy numbers, Garoppolo needed Alabama QB A.J. McCarron to turn down an invitation to the Senior Bowl this week in order for the small-school candidate to get his invite after playing well at the East-West Shrine Game last weekend.

Beyond the grind of going from a week of practice with one coaching staff and players with a game last Saturday into nomad mode and heading to the Senior Bowl check-in on Sunday, Garoppolo was saddled with learning another new offense this week.

"It's kind of like learning a new language. I learned Spanish last week and French this week. They're both pro-style offenses. You just have to get used to the verbiage," he said.

And there was the stigma of coming from a smaller program that didn't compete against SEC or Big Ten-quality defenses. By now, that's all in the past, he said.

"Last week helped me out with that, just being able to perform the way I did. … I'm done with that. We're all professionals now," he said. "College is done with and we're all on the same playing field, the same level."

The biggest obstacle to Garoppolo trying to become a first-round option in the 2014 draft will be his footwork. His quick release was immediately obvious at Senior Bowl practices and his collegiate production screams that he should be given a long look.

However, like a lot of college quarterbacks that post gaudy statistics, Garoppolo had the advantage of playing in a spread offense, just like fellow Senior Bowl quarterback Derek Carr, whose statistics at Fresno State in 2013 are remarkably similar to Garoppolo's.

After spending their college years operating out of the shotgun, they are adjusting to reading defenses from under center and dropping back to make their throws. It's a different animal for them both.

"(Reading the defense) really isn't that difficult. It's actually easier to read the defense under center because when you're in shotgun you have to look down to catch the ball. When you're underneath, you get to see everything," Garoppolo said. "It's more just your center of gravity, being balanced, having the footwork to make the throws and everything. When you're in gun, your feet are already set but when you're underneath it's more difficult."

"… The footwork is something I'm getting acclimated to each day. I think it's a repetition thing really. The first day I started doing it during the offseason it was real difficult, but each day it got easier and easier. I'm just trying to progress smoothly with that."

The quick release will help his case to be a first- or second-round pick. He has decent size, but he also has the smallest hands (9 inches) of any of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks.

Still, that didn't stop him from becoming an FBS All-American and breaking numerous records at Eastern Illinois, including the career completions mark that came in a game against Zimmer's alma mater.

The list of EIU quarterback that came before him includes Tony Romo and Sean Payton.

"The surprising thing is Coach Payton actually had more records than Tony Romo. A lot of people don't know that, but there's a little fun fact for you," he said.

Asked how many of their records he broke, Garoppolo's answer was nearly as quick as his release.

"I think all of them."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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