TAMPA — Practice ended and most players left the field Thursday afternoon when Kyle Trask picked up a ball and began throwing corner routes to receiver Kaylon Geiger, a rookie from Texas Tech.
Trask’s desire to wring every rep out of every day is understandable.
The former Florida Gators star had the NFL’s version of a redshirt rookie year last season, inactive as the Bucs’ No. 3 passer behind Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert for all 17 regular-season games and two playoff games.
When Brady ended his retirement in March, Trask’s plans to compete for the starting job this year lost all forward progress.
But general manager Jason Licht made it clear the Bucs needed to use the preseason to determine whether Trask is their future starter or if they need to start over at the position.
“One of our goals is to find out as much as we can about Kyle during the preseason,” Licht has said. “He’s going to play a lot.”
That sounds good, but which players are Trask going to play with?
Most of the starters will sit out the first preseason game Saturday night against the Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium. Even when Trask takes reps in practice, he rarely has receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage or Julio Jones in the huddle with him. Protection also could be an issue.
But chances are that Trask will be playing with slightly better players than he had last year when he went 4-of-15 for 35 yards and two sacks in the preseason opener. In three exhibition games, Trask connected on 52 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
With Brady not expected to return to the Bucs until after the preseason game at Tennessee on Aug. 20 due to what the team says are personal reasons, Trask will not only have extended reps in practice but also playing time.
“I just need to show my jump from last year, what I had to show last preseason and how much I’ve learned since then,” Trask said. “Just go out there and plan on playing fast. Keep improving my chemistry with the new receivers we have. They’re looking really, really good, so we should be rolling Saturday night.”
Reviews of Trask’s performance during training camp this year have been mixed. Some good days, a few bad. That’s the nature of training camp. It takes time to build a rhythm with new receivers.
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Coach Todd Bowles’ evaluation of Trask’s performance has been measured, at best.
“Well, he’s getting more comfortable in the offense,” Bowles sad. “I have to see the film to make sure he’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing. But he’s confident in where he’s going; he’s understanding things. We’re putting him in a lot of situations where he’s getting some experience. That’s all we can ask for right now.”
A word about practice reps: They are incredibly deceiving. Pass rushers can’t make contact with the quarterback. Receivers run fearlessly across the middle of the field. Every day, new plays are installed, attempted and just as quickly discarded.
The role of the quarterback in practice is to push the envelope, give receivers a chance to make plays and determine what windows he can fit the ball into.
“Yeah, that’s true. A lot of plays we put in for practice, some things we’re just trying out,” Trask said. “We’re trying to fit things in and see if we like it or not. Half the plays we might not even see on game days.
“At the end of the day, your record is the only thing that matters. In practice, you can only achieve so much, so there’s nothing to get a false impression of.”
Practice is important, but what Trask desperately needs is game repetitions. He needs to make adjustments and protection calls, and get players lined up with a running play clock and a shifting opposing defense. He needs to execute at full speed.
“Game reps are the ultimate learning experience for us,” Trask said. “Full speed, full contact. The speed of the game is at an all-time high. They’re real reps. You really learn from them. Practice reps are also very important, too. But there’s nothing like game reps, so I’m really looking forward to Saturday night and playing the best as I can.”
If there is a plus to Brady’s absence, it’s that Trask and Gabbert will get longer looks in practice and preseason games.
“Mentally, they’re getting a lot of reps,” Bowles said. “It can only help them. It can only help them get reps and see everything full speed and going against the first defense. Blaine is seasoned, obviously. He’s getting some good looks, and Kyle is getting a lot of experience.”
Even so, Trask must impress with less. He needs to elevate the play of those in the huddle even if many of them won’t be on an NFL roster a couple of weeks from now.
“If they’re able to see I’m out there, able to be a leader and getting people in line in the right formations …,” Trask said. “Obviously, I’m not out there with Mike Evans and the guys or the Godfathers of Tampa Bay. I’m in there with some newer guys, and if I’m able to get in there and be successful with them — and some of them might not be able to get lined up correctly — and if I’m able to direct and be a leader out there, that’s really all I can show.”
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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