The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback battle predictably ended with Baker Mayfield named the starter earlier this week. It was the outcome foretold the moment Mayfield signed his one-year, incentive-laden deal in Tampa.
But by all accounts, Kyle Trask put up a good effort to swing the predictable into a surprise.
"Oh, absolutely," offensive coordinator Dave Canales said on Thursday, via the team’s official website. "And the cool part about us is we've got all the film, so we get to watch all the quarterbacks that are playing in the preseason, whether they're playing the starters for a few series or the backups for a few series. If you watch Kyle's film and you throw on any of the games across the league, you'll see this is a real talent -- this is a real starting-level talent at quarterback. He just has [calmness] in the pocket, he's accurate and he just stays cool throughout the whole thing -- good or bad series, he's right back on it. Pretty cool"
Trask played a boatload in the first two preseason games, including 58 snaps in last week’s affair against the New York Jets. In all, the third-year QB went 26-of-38 (68.4 percent) for 317 yards with a touchdown and an interception. As with all young signal-callers, there were ups and downs, but Trask didn't fall on his face. He displayed better poise in the pocket than expected and has a good arm.
According to Canales, the decision to ride with Mayfield was about experience.
"Lots of positives from both guys, looking at it," Canales said. "Thinking about what Baker has been able to do ... [for] a little bit there in the middle of camp, Kyle showed he's the real deal. Baker felt the heat and had a couple of days where it wasn't quite sharp. He turned it around, had a fantastic first preseason game with a couple drives -- took us down, had a touchdown, the communication was smooth.
"Then he just kind of settled right in for that following week leading up to the Jets, showing up in that practice and [it was] just really like a good feeling like, 'We're settled here with this guy.' Everything felt like it was running smoothly. Kyle played fantastic in the game, so it really made it challenging. We're fortunate, going into this thing, that we didn't just name a starter going into it without giving Kyle a chance to show what he can do, because I think he earned a lot of respect in the locker room, on the coaching staff, in the fanbase for Bucs fans out there to see Kyle is real -- he is the real deal. I couldn't feel any better about our quarterback situation going into Week 1."
Reading between the lines, it becomes clear that the scales were tipped in Mayfield's favor from the start, and only an implosion would have changed that.
Trask's preseason play -- and the glowing reviews from the coaches -- adds intrigue to the situation. If the staff truly believes what it's said regarding Trask -- and it's not all just smoke -- should Mayfield stub his toe early in the season and the Bucs struggle, there could be a swift QB change.
Consider how Canales responded when asked if he's surprised by how many Mayfield skeptics there are:
"I think it's merited to some extent, having been bounced around a couple times," he said. "Whatever the circumstances were, it's real. ... You had the shoulder deal there. If you look at his whole career -- I think all of us have kind of followed it -- first pick overall, [he] wouldn't say this is exactly how I saw it going. I think the skepticism is warranted, [but] I don't care about it. I think, 'What is this play and where does the ball go first,' that's all I care about. 'What's this run play, get us to the best one here,' and he's doing all of those things great. For me, I feel a level of comfort with [him] handling the offense. Hopefully he's not listening and feeling like he has to prove anything to anybody but himself."
Canales is correct in his assessment. Mayfield has struggled at times, particularly under pressure, which has led to clubs moving on from him. The OC also isn't wrong that none of it matters if Mayfield salvages his career with a big season in Tampa. But Canales didn't have to say any of it. He could have just leaned on, "Every player is questioned by you guys in the media; we have a lot of faith in Baker."
This is Mayfield's last chance to prove he's an NFL starter. It's on him to prove it. If he struggles again, however, Trask will be waiting in the wings for his first real opportunity.
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