Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Dan Orlovsky does more than back up

TAMPA — Even after two grueling weeks of training camp, amid wobbly legs and wandering minds, Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky looked a reporter in the eyes and said with a straight face:

"I've said to (quarterbacks coach Ron Turner) during practice, 'I would love to practice, like, 15 hours a day, just do 7-on-7 all day.' I love the competitive camaraderie."

There are some teammates who might take issue with Orlovsky's proposition, but none are likely to deny he has been a crucial asset for the Bucs and their fourth-year starter, Josh Freeman.

Though Orlovsky, signed as a free agent to a two-year deal in March, has never fully resigned himself to being a career backup, he couldn't be a better fit for Tampa Bay.

Most days, the role is cushy. There's no pressure to perform unless the starter is benched or injured. Best of all, no one writes inflammatory headlines about the backup quarterback.

But Orlovsky's approach goes beyond that. He has taken it upon himself to be a resource for Freeman, to share knowledge from his seven previous seasons. And given his thirst for competition, Orlovsky strives to create something of a rivalry in practice, the goal being to bring out the best in Freeman. In the process, Orlovsky prepares himself to play if necessary.

All told, the Bucs seem to have gotten more than a backup quarterback.

"Having been around a little bit … you kind of learn the way it's done," said Orlovsky, who turns 29 on Saturday. "Hopefully, I can just come in and impart that on Josh and be the person behind him.

"But make no bones about it. I know what my role is. I need to be ready to play. A big part of that is going out and practicing well. If I go out and practice well and prepare well like I'm the guy, then that will push Josh."

The Bucs' process of selecting a backup to replace Josh Johnson, now with the 49ers after the Bucs chose not to re-sign him, was not taken lightly. When coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik mulled their options, Orlovsky stood out because he offered a package much greater than his pedestrian career numbers (14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 75.9 rating).

"I know the guys that Dan has backed up," Schiano said. "They really enjoyed having him there with them because he works like he's the starter and he works to help the starter prepare to win games. He's a team guy."

Schiano, formerly at Rutgers, coached against Orlovsky when the quarterback played at Connecticut.

"(Coach) Randy Edsall used to tell me stories about his work ethic," Schiano said. "It was above and beyond. And he hasn't changed."

Orlovsky has opened eyes in training camp, with little dropoff evident when Freeman leaves the field. In two possessions of the Bucs' preseason opener at Miami on Friday, Orlovsky completed 8 of 8 passes for 91 yards.

"I would have confidence in him if we have to put him in a (regular-season) game," Schiano said.

The performance against the Dolphins likely will be forgotten when the regular season arrives, but it built credibility for Orlovsky.

"You can do it all in practice, and you can be smart in meetings," he said. "But until you go out and do it in games, that'll be the time when, if something did happen, (teammates) will have trust in me."

Those teammates might have thought otherwise if they based their opinions on Orlovsky's career 2-10 record as a starter. But context is important. Those starts came while playing for the winless 2008 Lions and last season's 2-14 Colts.

Orlovsky has made believers of his new teammates.

"He's a great leader," No. 3 quarterback Brett Ratliff said. "No matter what situation he's been faced with, he just approaches it the same way. He's a leader if he goes with the (third team). He's leader if he goes with the (starters). It doesn't matter. He's a natural. He's uplifting to the guys around him."

Most of all, the Bucs hope Orlovsky propels Freeman. In the process, they can rest assured the ever-prepared backup will be ready.

"I don't think me being No. 1 or No. 2 has ever changed my work ethic," he said.

"And I don't think it ever will."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @BucsBeat.

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