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Quarterback Depth Gives Bucs Options

Posted Mar 24, 2016

Even as the Buccaneers picture a bright future behind young quarterback Jameis Winston, they also have developed very useful depth at the position with Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play in the NFL's most relentless division when it comes to opposing quarterbacks. Their passing foes include the league's reigning MVP, a multiple winner of the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award and a three-time Pro Bowler.

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To keep up with, in order, the Panthers' Cam Newton, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Falcons' Matt Ryan, the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston with the first overall pick a year ago. Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who directed Ryan's high-powered offense for three years in Atlanta, guided Winston to a record-setting rookie season and has no problem taking his young passer into battle against any of the other NFC South quarterbacks.

"Well, it's a team game," said Koetter. "It's not him against them. But we are definitely in a division with four really good quarterbacks. We have a lot of respect for the other quarterbacks in our division but we don't feel like Jameis takes a back seat to anybody. It's up to our entire team, it's not quarterback vs. quarterback, but let's face it, those guys are important to their teams just like Jameis is important to our team."

Where the Buccaneers might have a clear advantage against most NFL teams, not just those in their division, is in quarterback depth. That has been underscored in recent days as the idea of a potential trade of Winston's primary backup, Mike Glennon, has been publicly discussed. Koetter, of course, was asked about that very topic when he met the media at the NFL's Annual Meeting in Boca Raton on Wednesday, and he both praised Glennon and conceded that he might someday not have the former third-round pick in his stable of passers.

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"I'm on record as saying I think Mike Glennon's a starter in the NFL," said Koetter. "I'm a huge Mike Glennon fan. I'd love to have Mike Glennon on our football team, but it's a business and if something happens and he's not with us, that's why we acquired Ryan Griffin last year, to be able to hopefully ascend into that spot at some point. We're in a good position at that spot. I think we're definitely in the top few teams in the league with our depth at quarterback. We're just going to see how it plays out. If the right opportunity presents itself [General Manager] Jason [Licht] is going to have to make a decision that's best for the team."

Indeed, with Winston, Glennon and Griffin, the Buccaneers carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster through the entire 2015 season, something they had not done since the NFL changed its game-day inactive rules in 2011 to eliminate the "inactive third quarterback" option. Since, the team has generally dedicated to active spots to the quarterback position and carried a third passer on the practice squad. However, the practice squad exposes players to be signed away by other teams, and the Bucs clearly didn't want to do that with Griffin. As Koetter points out, that involved some long-range thinking, and the possibility that Griffin would be needed as the primary backup to Winston.

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The 26-year-old Griffin, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Saints in 2013, has yet to take a regular-season NFL snap. Not even the Bucs are claiming that he's a sure thing to succeed if he's forced into the lineup in the regular season. But there are few sure things lurking on QB depth charts around the NFL, and the Bucs like what they've seen from Griffin since they claimed him off waivers from New Orleans last September 6.

"Most teams in the NFL, they put their backup in, they're nervous," Koetter conceded. "There's no one out there that's going, 'Man, I hope our backup gets to go in there and play,' mainly because you just haven't prepared them. What we've seen from Ryan Griffin is, he's been well-coached before we got him. In college, he was well-prepared. The fact that he spent some time in New Orleans, who's one of the best, and their coaching staff, which is outstanding, I think that needs to be noted.

"He really throws the ball well. And he works at it every day. I mean, this guy works. We're in our game-plan meetings and this guy's asking as many questions as Jameis. We have a limited amount of film to look at from the preseason and he did a good job. You don't know exactly what he's being told but we like what he did."

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The 6-5, 210-pound Griffin started 39 games over four seasons at Tulane, completing 60% of his passes and racking up 9,026 passing yards with a 56-35 TD-INT ratio. During his rookie preseason exposure with the Saints he had a 78.4 passer rating and two touchdowns versus one interception over 59 passes. He was apparently impressive enough to prompt the Saints to stash him on their active roster behind Drew Brees and Luke McCown for most of the regular season. He spent all of the next season on the Saints' practice squad but the Bucs pounced following the 2015 preseason when New Orleans waived him in the final cuts.

Koetter, who was the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator last year before being named head coach in January, said that Griffin has a strong football I.Q.

"It's high, it's high," said Koetter. "I think your I.Q. grows with experience, but his hunger for knowledge about the NFL is huge, and his I.Q. is good."

Even if Koetter has to balance his desire to have Glennon on his team with the possibility of a trade (however strong that possibility really is, it has to be acknowledged because other teams have spoken to Licht about Glennon), it's better than being on the other side of the equation. The Buccaneers are thrilled with their starting quarterback but also have the kind of depth that could help them in several different ways. The Bucs have certainly had seasons in which they have not been satisfied at all with their quarterback position, and there are always some teams around the league in that very situation.

"Last year at this time, going into the draft, I was confident that we had a solid quarterback in Mike Glennon already in the building and then all the research we did on the quarterbacks last year. Having been through a season with Jameis, the future is very bright for us at the quarterback position. It's a quarterback-driven league. Just from talking to other guys here that don't have them, that's their main focus this offseason."