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NFL world is all abuzz about Eastern Illinois QB Garoppolo

Updated: January 22, 2014 10:51AM



MOBILE, Ala. — With Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo destined for the big stage of the NFL, the media made sure to clarify a few things about him while he sat on a small stage during Senior Bowl week.

How exactly do you say your name?

“Ga-ra-po-lo,” he said with an affable smile. “It’s usually how most people think.”

Is that a Greek name?

“Italian,” he said, now beaming. “It ends in a vowel.”

So goes the world of Garoppolo. The Rolling Meadows High School graduate was the most valuable player of the East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, and now he’s taking a starring role during Senior Bowl week.

Everyone — from media to scouts to team executives — wants to know everything about him.

The NFL world is gushing over Garoppolo, who, in the last several weeks, has gone from an unknown to a potential late-round pick to a possible second- or third-round selection, in the opinions of some NFL evaluators. His model mechanics, quick release and overall potential are the buzz of the offseason.

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The Chicago area doesn’t have a rich history of producing NFL quarterbacks. Only nine from the metro area have started an NFL regular-season game since the merger.

“It’s a rare thing,” Garoppolo said.

He just happens to be the next best thing.

With Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron declining to participate in the Senior Bowl, Garoppolo received a late invite after his strong showing in the East-West Shrine game. The NFL wanted to see more with better players around him.

It was a grind going straight from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Mobile — “I’m a little sleep-deprived,” Garoppolo said — but that hasn’t prevented him from turning heads.

“He’s looked really good,” an NFL executive in search of a quarterback said.

The best thing about him?

“He’s got a good release — a great release,” the executive said.

Two weeks in front of the NFL world only has strengthened his case for the draft. He’ll get a chance to show more next month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“In a job interview for any profession, you want to get face time,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout and current NFL Network analyst. “He’s had an opportunity now to get weeks of face time with the bosses, so to speak, of the NFL. He’s handled himself really well, and he’s helping himself a lot.”

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For seven years, Garoppolo honed his skills under the tutelage of former NFL quarterback Jeff Christensen, who runs the Throw It Deep quarterback and receiver academy in suburban Lombard.

For Garoppolo, who didn’t play quarterback until his junior year at Rolling Meadows, it was all about establishing a delivery.

“He’s always been an open book,” said Christensen, an Eastern Illinois product who spent time with six NFL teams. “He’s always been willing to absorb and apply.”

Garoppolo might not have generated a ton of Division-I interest at Rolling Meadows. But it didn’t take long for him to develop into a record-setting quarterback at Eastern Illinois, breaking marks set by the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and earning the 2013 Walter Payton Award (top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision).

“You can’t supersede accuracy,” said Christensen, who has helped develop former Bears quarterback Matt Blanchard. “And [Garoppolo] is incredibly, incredibly accurate, and that’s the key.

“He’s an NFL starting quarterback.”

Garoppolo, whom Bears general manager Phil Emery scouted this past season at EIU, thanks a lot of people for his rise. It starts with his parents, Tony and Denise, and being part of a football-playing family with three brothers, Tony Jr., Mike and Bill.

Then there’s Christensen — who compares Garoppolo’s delivery to Tom Brady’s and Aaron Rodgers’ — and former EIU coach Bob Spoo and longtime assistant Roy Wittke for their honest recruiting approach. He also appreciates the system and approach former EIU coach Dino Babers (now at Bowling Green) provided the last two seasons.

He never has regretted going to EIU.

“We’re just so happy for him,” Tony Garoppolo said. “It’s all about him.”

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Garoppolo will tell you he has to improve many things, starting with his footwork. Five- and seven-step drops are foreign to him after playing in a shotgun system in college.

But the Jaguars’ staff, which is coaching the South team, doesn’t have any complaints.

“His footwork is pretty good,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “He throws with a nice base and good feet. It’s pretty neat to see. You can see his release, which is a nice benefit for him.”

There will be a number of quarterbacks who will go before Garoppolo in the draft, starting with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.

But scouts are convinced that Garoppolo will be a good one, too.

“He’s got some really special qualities,” said Shawn Zobel, the editor of draftheadquarters.com, who has privately worked for multiple NFL teams.

“Mechanically, he’s about what you look for. Everybody going into the NFL needs some fine-tuning here or there, but in terms of an Eastern Illinois quarterback, he’s far more developed than you’d expect for an FCS quarterback.

“To me, he’s the dark horse of this year’s NFL class. Down here, he flashes the ability to be a top quarterback. I think he’s on his way to being a second- or third-round pick when all is said and done.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com
Twitter: @adamjahns



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