Any backup New England Patriots player will tell you he prepares for every game like he’s a starter, unsure of when his opportunity will arise.

Hey Prince Ali, you’re up.

Jimmy Garoppolo has a chance to prove he’s either the next Aaron Rodgers or just another Matt Flynn in four games — or fewer, depending on appeal — to start the 2015 NFL season while starter Tom Brady serves a suspension for his “more probable than not” involvement in the DeflateGate scandal. Garoppolo has been widely praised since the Patriots selected him 62nd overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, save for a few shaky weeks to begin his NFL career last spring and summer.

Ever since Garoppolo laced up his Nike cleats in the Patriots’ first preseason game against the Washington Redskins last summer, he only has appeared to improve as a signal-caller. He went 46-of-79 passing in the preseason with five touchdowns and one interception, and added four carries for 8 yards. He then went 19-of-27 passing for 182 yards and one TD in the regular season. His 6-of-7, 70-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 even left some Patriots fans calling for the rookie to start over Brady.

Now every Patriots practice — from their first organized team activity until the dog days of summer — will be must-watch. How will head coach Bill Belichick divvy up snaps between his dueling starting quarterbacks? How will Garoppolo’s passes and practice stats compare to Brady’s? How often will we hear from the Patriots’ Weeks 1 through 4 starter? Which quarterback will take more preseason snaps? (Garoppolo, probably)

DeflateGate will extend the Patriots’ reputation as cheaters, but it’s also proof Belichick is constantly one step ahead of his competition. Belichick said after Garoppolo was drafted that the Patriots never wanted to get into a situation like the 2011 Indianapolis Colts, who went 2-14 with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins under center while Peyton Manning was injured.

If Garoppolo can keep the ship afloat while the Patriots wait for Brady to return, then it’s mission accomplished on the Garoppolo pick, regardless of whether or not he becomes the Patriots’ long-term starting quarterback.

The Patriots appear to be in no rush to trade Garoppolo, but if he shines in his games as a starter, and if Brady comes back playing as well as he did last season, maybe New England could recoup the 2016 first-round draft pick it lost as DeflateGate punishment by dealing the Eastern Illinois product. Experts said Garoppolo would have been the third-best quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft class, and next year’s rookie QB market is regarded as similarly weak.

Maybe a team would throw in a 2017 fourth-round pick, too. Then Belichick really would have outsmarted the NFL by using Brady’s suspension to regain what he lost in DeflateGate.

Thumbnail photo via Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Images