TAMPA — The distance between Gainesville and Tampa is about 130 miles. But the journey from Florida Gators star to starting Bucs quarterback will seem much longer than that for Kyle Trask.
Fortunately, the Bucs were willing to invest a second-round pick and the time necessary to give Trask an opportunity to follow Tom Brady into the huddle one day.
Just judging from the time offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen spent with Trask at Florida’s pro day last month, you knew this was going to be a match.
Trask, who went from high school backup to one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, will need some time to develop. Even after setting a Gators record with 43 touchdown passes and 4,283 yards last fall.
And who better to learn from than the 43-year-old Brady, who plans to play at least a year or two after extending his contract through 2022?
“I like that he’s been in big games,” Christensen said of the Bucs’ No. 64 pick. “I like that he’s a big old guy. He’s an accurate guy. He led the nation in passing. He’s a patient guy.
“What I said to him was, you know it fits his M.O. In high school, he sits and waits his turn and then crushes it. And at Florida, he sits and waits his turn and then crushes it. And here he’ll sit and wait his turn and hopefully he’ll follow the same formula.”
Trask will give the Bucs a younger, less expensive option at quarterback than either Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin. When Leftwich and Christensen attended Trask’s pro day, it was to check out his arm strength in person. They came away impressed.
“I think sometimes when you’re accurate and have a good sense of timing, your arm doesn’t show up and that’s why we went up to his workout and saw for ourselves,” Christensen said. “Byron and I both went to kind of check that box.
“I think it’s very accurate. I think that’s one of his strengths. That jumps out at you when you watch the film.”
What was puzzling to the Bucs is that in their evaluation, there wasn’t much difference between Trask and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who went 15th overall to the Patriots and at one time was the favorite to go No. 3 to the 49ers.
“I’ve shown on film that I can make every single throw on the field and I don’t think arm strength is a huge weakness of mine,” said Trask, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. “But of course, I’m always looking to get better. I’m always trying to get bigger, faster, stronger. But I think I have plenty of arm strength to make all the throws there is to make in the NFL.”
This was the perfect year to sign a young quarterback for the Bucs. They have 22 returning starters and not a lot of needs.
The offense fits Trask as well. The Bucs try to take pressure off the quarterback by running the ball. And the guy directing the offense now has very limited mobility outside the pocket, much like Brady.
“We don’t draft guys to run,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We draft guys to throw and he’s accurate as hell. Really excited about him. People always want to compare people. To me, he’s a lot like (Super Bowl 37 champion quarterback) Brad Johnson.”
One other thing about Trask is that he’s used to handling the egos of elite pass catchers. That’s not a small thing for an NFL quarterback. He’s already learned to deal with players such as tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Kadarius Toney, both drafted in the first round by the Falcons and Giants, respectively.
“He’s played with some elite guys, some big-time guys that went high in the draft,’' Christensen said. “He’s had to manage keeping them all happy. That can be a tough transition for some guys when they get to the NFL. He’s done it.’'
Trask’s career path has also taught him patience and defined his determination.
“Love his story of perseverance,” general manager Jason Licht said. “The guy is a fighter, he’s a competitor, And once again, a great team player. He’s had a lot of players he’s thrown the ball around to and has had a lot of success and he’ll have a lot of great players here, too.”
Interestingly, the Bucs have said Trask is no threat to Brady. He will play as long as he wants to. Just the same, Licht said he made Brady aware of the possibility — if not probability — that the Bucs could take a quarterback.
“Tom’s the the ultimate team guy and I don’t think Tom is worried about anybody taking his job,” Licht said. “We had some casual conversations throughout the past few weeks that there was a scenario that might come up where we could take a quarterback. I don’t have many conversations with Tom about the draft but he was totally fine. He understands what’s best for the team. Tom is going to play as long as he wants to play. He’s earned that right.”
This pick made too much sense. The Bucs need a young quarterback to win one of the three jobs and develop into a possible starter without the urgency to play. Trask gets to travel a familiar road, down I-75, from backup to eventual starter.
“That’s why every time I saw Tampa, their name would pop up in the draft, I was just kind of checking my phone because I thought they had potential interest in me,” Trask said. “It’s totally surreal for me and I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy the moment and once this is over, get back to the grind.”
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