TAMPA — As Bruce Arians prepares for the NFL draft by watching video of quarterbacks, one local lefty has caught his eye: Michael Penix Jr.
The former Tampa Bay Tech star, who led Washington to the national championship game this past season, has the deep-ball accuracy the former Bucs Super Bowl-winning coach covets.
But a team may have to risk it to get those biscuits.
Penix’s medical history is a complicated one and could cause him to tumble in the draft. He tore his ACL in 2018 and 2020, and had shoulder injuries in 2019 and 2021.
“I think that says everything about the kid, how tough he is to overcome all that,” Arians said Monday. “Then to play like he did this year. Now, the medical experts, when you get to the combine, they’ll tug and pull and do all that stuff. You’ll get the medical grade.
“But as far as the football grade, I love him because he does things I love to do. He puts it up the field. He’s as accurate on throws up the field as anyone I’ve seen in 15 years Just to fight through that last game after he had that ankle tore up. But what he did to Texas (in a 37-31 win in the Sugar Bowl) was unbelievable.”
Arians, who coached the Bucs from 2019-2021, is helping the franchise prepare for the April 25-27 draft in his role as senior advisor to general manager Jason Licht.
“That’s kind of always been my hobby anyway, but I’ve been doing a lot of (quarterbacks) all year,” Arians said. “I really can’t put a stamp on a guy until I get to know them personally. But watching the tape, this might be the best group of quarterbacks that have come out in 10 or 15 years. They’ve got guys running (the 40-yard dash in) 4.5 (seconds) and some guys slinging it. The passers are just amazing in this draft.”
Come the start of free agency in March, Kyle Trask will be the only quarterback the Bucs have under contract for the 2024 season. But they hired former Rams and Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who worked with Baker Mayfield for five games in Los Angeles at the end of the 2022 season.
Mayfield is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but he and the Bucs have a mutual interest in him returning. Mayfield is coming off a career year in which he passed for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Arians says he’s confident the two sides can work out a contract extension.
“I think he loves it here,” Arians said. “The job he did, I mean, the job Todd (Bowles) did with the new coordinator (Dave Canales), new play-caller, new quarterback and the ups and downs. To be the only NFC team to go to the playoffs four years in a row? That’s very satisfying, for me especially.
“To watch everything as the season unfolded, and then to come in December and January to really put it together ... I mean, we came really, really close. One drive away from the (NFC) championship game. I loved the job Todd did and Baker did.”
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The Bucs got off to a 3-1 start before losing six of their next seven games. But they got hot at the right time, winning five of their final six to finish 9-8 and claim the NFC South for the third straight season.
“That’s what talks about your culture and the leadership in your locker room, and those guys are still there,” Arians said. “I mean, you’ve just got to lean on them, and they’ll right the ship for you. I thought Todd did just a marvelous job of handling that whole situation.”
Receiver Mike Evans is another potential unrestricted free agent who Arians believes will re-sign with the Bucs. At 30, Evans showed no signs of slowing down during a Pro Bowl season that saw him finish with 1,255 receiving yards and a league-best 13 touchdowns.
“Nothing at all,” Arians said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any doubt that he’ll continue, especially if we’re fortunate enough to keep him and Baker together, because they’ve got that good rapport already. I don’t see that there’s any downside to Mike at all. He might even get better.”
As Arians prepares for the draft, his Arians Family Foundation is getting set to celebrate its 10th anniversary with an exclusive live concert featuring country music star Jason Aldean March 23 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
A limited number of tickets are on sale and VIP Sponsorship packages are available at AriansFamilyFoundation.com. All proceeds from the event will benefit the foundation, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and GAL (Florida Guardian Ad Litem), which support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy for children and youth who have experienced neglect or abuse.
“It’s been fantastic. Every event we’ve had has been sold out,” Arians said. “I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Arians said his annual golf tournament probably will take place in the spring, now as a one-day event. He said he has been pleased by the support his foundation has received, with some participants volunteering to become foster parents or guardians ad litem.
“That’s one of the major things, the awareness and knowing you can do this,” Arians said. “You’re going to get more out of it than the kid is, I promise you. When we can get five or six new volunteers just from the crowd that’s there, that’s amazing. We’ve had people leave there and foster children and adopt children. It’s very moving. To try to save these children one at a time is the whole goal.”
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