Todd Bowles’ choice at quarterback may be hiding in plain sight

The Bucs coach lists “moxie” as a trait he values in a starter, a word he has used to describe Baker Mayfield.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield, who got first reps with the starting offense on Tuesday, hands off to running back Rachaad White while participating in organized team activities.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield, who got first reps with the starting offense on Tuesday, hands off to running back Rachaad White while participating in organized team activities. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 30|Updated June 2

TAMPA — Did normally poker-faced head coach Todd Bowles just show his hand in the Bucs’ competition at quarterback between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask?

When asked about what analysis will be used in making the decision during the offseason and training camp, Bowles listed some of the criteria that will be scrutinized.

More telling was the fact he used “moxie” as one of the traits the Bucs will consider, a word he has used to describe Mayfield in the past.

“From an analyzing standpoint, again, it’s just the grasp of the offense, it’s the reading of the defense,” Bowles said. “It’s not necessarily making the big play but the right play. And then it comes down to moxie. Then it comes down to intelligence ― in game intelligence and adjustments and fits and film work and you can see who the team galvanizes around and who’s ready to play the first game and you kind of make a decision from there.”

In April, shortly after the Bucs signed Mayfield to a one-year deal, Bowles used “moxie” to describe the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma. Bowles studied Mayfield closely in 2018 while head coach of the Jets, who owned the No. 3 overall pick. Mayfield went No. 1 overall to Cleveland.

“You liked his moxie,” Bowles said of Mayfield at the time. “You liked his leadership skills. You liked the way he could get out and throw on the run some.”

During Tuesday’s organized team activities, Mayfield got the first reps again with the starting offense, but Bowles said they rotate between quarterbacks each day.

The offense under new coordinator Dave Canales features a lot of movement at the quarterback position using play-action run fakes, resulting in a lot of bootlegs, rollouts and waggles.

That system would seem to benefit Mayfield. Although Kyle Trask did run the football some at Florida, it was more in short-yardage situations. In his final season with the Gators, Trask rushed for 50 yards and three touchdowns on 64 attempts, a 0.78 yard average.

From left: Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, and receiver Chris Godwin get in work Tuesday.
From left: Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, and receiver Chris Godwin get in work Tuesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“He ran some in college,” Bowles said. “Kyle is a better runner than you think. He’s not as quick as some of the quarterbacks that are out today but he runs well enough to make plays if he has to. He’s adjusted fine.”

Trask could not recall a signature run he had for the Gators but it’s clear he has worked on his nutrition and his body is leaner. On Tuesday, he said he had lost between 5 to 10 pounds through rest and a better diet.

“Obviously, we’re going to be moving around a lot more so just trying to be as light on my feet as I could,” he said. “I just think it’s really exciting to get the movement in the backfield going. You know the success the system has had with the heaving play action and taking shots and things. It gives you a lot of protection if you’re able to run the keepers off the play action. That’s just really exciting for a quarterback.

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“Anytime you can turn on the field with a play action and see you don’t have anyone within 10 yards of you, that’s exciting. They’ve been doing this for decades, the system they’re putting in. We’re all just buying in.”

Bucs receiver Chris Godwin said last week that Trask is throwing the ball with more conviction than in the past two seasons behind Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert.

“He’s getting the reps. When you get more reps, you get more confidence,” Bowles said. “... We’re happy where he’s at.”

As he has in the past, Trask credited the ability to be in the same quarterback room as Brady the past two seasons in improving his attention to detail.

But the experience Trask built learning the nuances of the offense under fired offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and coach Bruce Arians is gone.

Like Mayfield, he is starting over with a new system. The difference, of course, is that Mayfield has started 79 games and passed for more than 16,000 yards and 100 touchdowns while Trask has attempted nine passes in the regular season, completing three.

“This new scheme allows you to get outside the pocket and use your legs more,” Trask said. “That’s real exciting for me, anytime you can get out on the edge. It’s exciting to throw one on the run or get outside the pocket and make a play, run for a first down or something like that.”

What has stood out about Canales’ plan of attack?

“Just how creative the offense is,” Trask said. “I think everybody has bought into the scheme and I’m just looking forward to seeing how it looks against a defense. You see what they did in Seattle with Geno (Smith) and the weapons they had and I think with our weapons, we can force some really explosive plays.”

Apparently, it would also help if Trask could develop some “moxie.”

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