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Bucs’ QB picture may seem clear, but Todd Bowles keeps it convoluted

Tampa Bay’s coach won’t even say who’s starting Saturday’s preseason finale against the Ravens.
 
Bucs third-year quarterback Kyle Trask finished 20-of-28 for 218 yards and a touchdown in Saturday night's 13-6 preseason win against the Jets.
Bucs third-year quarterback Kyle Trask finished 20-of-28 for 218 yards and a touchdown in Saturday night's 13-6 preseason win against the Jets. [ SETH WENIG | AP ]
Published Aug. 20, 2023|Updated Aug. 20, 2023

Exactly three weeks before the regular-season opener, the writing on the wall regarding the Bucs’ quarterback battle seems clear, though the coach still isn’t doing anything to help with the legibility.

The morning after Tampa Bay’s 13-6 preseason road win against the Jets, when Baker Mayfield’s inactivity seemed a surefire sign he’s being preserved to start the Sept. 10 opener in Minnesota, coach Todd Bowles said he still has no timetable for naming a starter.

He wouldn’t even name a starter for Saturday’s preseason finale at home against the Ravens, when all other projected first-teamers are expected to log some degree of action.

“We’ll meet on (the quarterback situation for the Ravens) as a staff and we’ll kind of go from there,” Bowles said during a media teleconference Sunday morning. “Let the players know, and once we let them know we’ll let you guys know.”

Saturday night’s developments at MetLife Stadium seemed the clearest indicator yet that Mayfield — a sixth-year veteran signed to a one-year, $4 million deal earlier this year — has inherited the vacancy created by Tom Brady’s second retirement. As expected, Kyle Trask started against the Jets and played the entire first half before being replaced by No. 3 quarterback John Wolford.

But when Wolford was carted off the field late in the third period with a neck injury, Trask re-entered — to his surprise — and finished the game. Bowles said later that night Trask was re-inserted because he already was warmed up, though by that point he hadn’t been on the field in nearly an hour.

His explanation Sunday: “It was all about whether we were going to keep the offensive line in the ballgame,” Bowles said.

“We really wanted to see Kyle in a two-minute situation, so once we got to the two-minute situation (at the end of the first half) and Kyle got that in, we really didn’t want to play Baker in the second half because we were changing the lineup. We wanted John to get some of the work so we left (Mayfield) out.”

Going by that rationale, neither quarterback was effectively served Saturday in their respective quests to win the job — if a competition still exists.

If Trask remains in the mix, his health was endangered when he was re-inserted and forced to finish the game behind second- and third-string offensive linemen. Moreover, instead of being afforded a succession of handoffs to protect him, Trask attempted six passes upon returning and was sacked on Tampa Bay’s next-to-last possession.

And if Mayfield still hasn’t truly secured the job, his inactivity Saturday was baffling. In two preseason games, Mayfield has played four possessions, going 8-of-9 for 63 yards and a touchdown. Trask, by contrast, has gone 26-of-38 for 317 yards, a touchdown and one interception in that same span.

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And neither has logged action with the rest of the first-team offense, at least not in a preseason-game setting.

“They’ve had (continuity) all camp and they’ve had it all spring, so we’re not worried about the continuity part,” Bowles said Sunday. “Everybody’s getting plenty of reps together and two weeks (between the preseason finale and season opener) will be fine for us. We just need some game time, so everybody’s going to play (Saturday).”

Wolford returns home with team

Bowles offered an encouraging update on Wolford, who returned home with the team Saturday night after being carted off the field with what Bowles called a neck injury with 1:03 to play in the third.

“He’s feeling better,” Bowles said. “He’s moving around, so that’s the best we can offer right now. Tests came out pretty good, so we’ll just see how he recovers.”

Miscellany

• Though he also refused to name an outright winner of the kicking competition, Bowles made a clearer indication the job is now Chase McLaughlin’s to lose. The journeyman nailed a 48-yarder Saturday, while free-agent signee Rodrigo Blankenship missed from 32 and 55 yards after hitting a 35-yarder.

“You’ve got to make them to be in (the competition), so you’ve seen what you’ve seen,” Bowles said Sunday. “But we’ve got one more game and we’ll go from there.”

• Bowles said the status of center Ryan Jensen, trying to return from a devastating 2022 knee injury, remains “status quo,” though the veteran didn’t travel to New Jersey for the joint workout or preseason game with the Jets. Bowles said the team felt traveling on a plane wouldn’t help his knee. Third-year center Robert Hainsey, vying with Nick Leverett for the starting job while Jensen remains out, was held out Saturday because he was experiencing soreness from Wednesday’s joint practice with the Jets, Bowles explained.

• The Bucs have claimed defensive back Rodarius Williams, brother of former LSU All-America cornerback Greedy Williams, off waivers from the Giants. No corresponding roster move was announced.

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