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Bucs notes: A Florida football story comes full circle

Oviedo natives Jeff Driskel and Blake Bortles grew up together. Now they are teammates with the Broncos.
Denver Broncos quarterbacks Blake Bortles, left, and Jeff Driskel chat during practice Thursday in Englewood, Colo.
Denver Broncos quarterbacks Blake Bortles, left, and Jeff Driskel chat during practice Thursday in Englewood, Colo. [ DAVID ZALUBOWSKI | AP ]
Published Sep. 24, 2020

It’s funny how everything has come full circle for Broncos quarterback Jeff Driskel.

The small central Florida city of Oviedo — population 33,000 and just northeast of Orlando — has produced two NFL quarterbacks. They grew up together, played on the same youth teams and went to rival high schools in town.

Now, Driskel and Blake Bortles have been reunited in Denver, hoping to prevent the Broncos' season from taking a mile-high dive.

Driskel, who replaced injured starter Drew Lock and led the Broncos to within 15 yards of a comeback win in Pittsburgh, will start Sunday’s home game against the Bucs. Bortles, a free agent, signed with the team this week but didn’t officially join the club until Thursday, when he cleared COVID-19 protocols.

Bortles wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and decided to stay close to home to attend UCF. The next season, Driskel was the top quarterback prospect in the country and signed with Florida. Their careers changed trajectories in college: Bortles was the No. 3 overall pick by the Jaguars, Driskel a sixth-round pick after finishing his college career at Louisiana Tech.

Bortles struggled to meet franchise quarterback expectations in Jacksonville and, after five years there, was Jared Goff’s backup with the Rams last season. The Broncos signed Driskel this offseason to back up Lock, his fourth NFL organization in five years. Sunday’s game will mark just his ninth NFL start.

“It’s kind of a unique situation, pretty cool for our hometown to have two guys in the NFL,” Driskel said. “I was highly recruited. He stayed home at UCF and had a great career, went on to be highly drafted by the Jaguars. It was really cool for both of us to compete with them. I’ve followed his career and rooted for him the whole way.”

Bortles' role is uncertain, but for now the Bucs won’t sleep on Driskel, who threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns last week in Pittsburgh.

“(Driskel) is a heck of an athlete (and) has a great arm,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “I thought he played really well against Pittsburgh — against a really good defense — bringing them back (and) almost had a shot to win it there at the end. He’s a quality guy. He can beat you with his legs and he can beat you with his arm. He’s a smart guy, and I thought he handled that situation he was in last week like a pro does.”

Evans nearing full strength, heads to TB12

Wide receiver Mike Evans said his hamstring has improved to the point where he’s no longer thinking about the injury when he’s on the field running routes.

“I’m definitely at that point,” Evans said Thursday. “I feel great. The last two practices, I’ve been running good. I’ve been getting a lot of treatment. The training staff has been doing a great job. I’ve been going to TB12. That’s been great as well. So, I feel really good. I’m going on a good trajectory."

Evans will be happy to see his friend and teammate Chris Godwin back on the field Sunday after missing last week’s game with concussion symptoms.

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“We’re two of the best the game has to offer,” Evans said. “But that’s just my boy. He gets me riled up to play, I get on him and we get hyped for games, and you know we (are) just brothers out there, really, just playing and it’s easy to play with a guy that you really like.”

The Bucs will likely be without receiver Justin Watson, who hasn’t practiced this week with a shoulder injury.

Quote of the day

“He plays beyond his years right now. He had great coaching with his dad and seeing his dad play growing up. They sit and talk every week, which is a great addition to that. He plays like a veteran, he understands the game, he plays the game the right way, he makes his plays and he understands that when his opportunity comes up, he has to make a play — and he does.”

— Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Quote of the day II

“His leadership is priceless, his physicality is priceless. … You respect the violence that he brings to the game (and) you respect his ability to think his way through out there on the football field. He’s one of our leaders (and) he’s the guy that gets those guys going. … You want your center to be a tough guy, a smart guy (who) can make all the calls. When he goes out there and plays the game on Sunday, he goes out there with a certain sort of violence.”

— Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich on veteran center Ryan Jensen

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.


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