TAMPA — Baker Mayfield is a Heisman Trophy winner, the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, has thrown for more than 16,000 yards and 100 touchdowns, and has a playoff win under his belt. He’s also joining his fourth team since July.
Kyle Trask has dressed for only two games during his first two seasons, and his career stats consist of going 3-of-9 passing for 23 yards in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons during last year’s regular-season finale.
But offensive coordinator Dave Canales and the Bucs are adamant about holding a quarterback competition between Mayfield and Trask during training camp and the preseason to determine the best guy under center for the team in 2023.
Would the Bucs benefit from just determining the starting quarterback now and using the time before the games count in September to get either Mayfield or Trask as many reps as possible in a new offense?
“I don’t think we need to rush to make any decisions,” Canales said Wednesday. “Wait as long as you can, as long as possible. Our offense and defense, they don’t need us to name a starter. Trust me. We’ve got studs up front on the offensive line and a veteran presence. We’ve got a veteran presence at the wide receiver position. We’ve got a really good group of backs there.
“And the defense is fantastic. And the way we’re building, and even with the draft, this is not a team that we’ve got to know who the starter is going to be so we can move forward and figure out who we’re going to be. I don’t think so. I think the way we’re going to play it, I’ll have both guys ready to be really successful and efficient in what we’re doing.”
The Bucs believe Trask has earned his chance to compete for the starting job by the way he handled not being given an opportunity to progress beyond the No. 3 spot behind Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert. They drafted him in the second round (64th overall) out of Florida in 2021. But he has a new offense and a new quarterbacks coach in Thad Lewis, which doesn’t give him any advantage over Mayfield.
Canales had been the Seahawks quarterbacks coach or passing game coordinator since 2018 and presided over a QB derby last season between Geno Smith and Drew Lock.
“I think, philosophically, for me coming from Seattle, best guy gets the job,” Canales said. “You saw it happened last year. First-hand. It was Geno Smith, it was Drew Lock, and it was a true competition. You got a guy who hadn’t played in a long time (Smith). You got a guy who had some pretty bad experiences in the recent past with Drew. And so for me, it’s a win-win when you create a competition.”
Canales said he wants each quarterback thinking and preparing like he will be the potential starter.
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“Here’s why,” he said. “If you name a starter today, the backup guy starts thinking like a backup, OK? But if you say, ‘This is a competition,’ we’re going to allow us to go into the preseason, let them show us they can manage to get us into the right play. They can take care of the ball. That’s going to be the determining factor, really, is who takes care of the ball. And then the bonus is, now who pushes it downfield?”
If the Bucs can play defense, establish a running game and take care of the ball, they’re going to be a great team, Canales said, ”so, the guy who can show that is going to win the job.”
In Seattle, Smith and Lock were competing right up through the final preseason game Aug. 26 at Dallas.
“Game 1, I’ve got a starter, and Geno and I’ve got a backup who has been thinking as a starter for six months,” Canales said. “Whoever won the job was going to be our starter, but the other guy was going to bring so much more value and confidence to our room. So that kind of was has been our philosophy, and I would like to take it as far as I can.”
In the end, the Bucs’ starting quarterback will be determined by discussions involving Canales, head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht.
“I told Jason early on, ‘I will coach the crap out of whoever you give me and whoever we decide to, but I’ll have them both ready.’”
The Smith-Lock comparison may not be quite equivalent. Before last season, Lock had started 21 games for the Broncos. Smith, who was the Jets quarterback in 2013-14, started only five games over the next six seasons. Mayfield has 69 career starts in the regular season, and there hasn’t been a playing gap like there was with Smith.
Mayfield’s personality also may be more infectious than either Smith or Lock.
“I just like his presence,” Canales said. “He just has such a great swag. You know when he steps into the huddle, he belongs. He could come right in here and light up the room.
“He’s been told no enough times where I can feel the hunger that he has, wanting to reestablish himself as a starter and to really have the type of career he envisioned and the Browns envisioned taking him (No.) 1 overall.”
Trask has the benefit of playing behind a seven-time Super Bowl champion in Brady.
“With Kyle, what’s cool is you know just talking about being around Tom for two years, you see his tempo controlling his drop, mimicking a guy that was the greatest of all time,” Canales said. “And it’s like, OK, he’s got a great starting point. You know, if you’re going to play behind somebody, like, who better?”
How long will it take Canales and the Bucs to name a starter? Who knows. But they will have to hope the locker room won’t be divided like the quarterback reps in practice.
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