The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine began on Tuesday with the arrival of the first three groups of players: kickers and special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends. As each of the 11 groups will do, those leadoff hitters began a four-day process with registration, orientation and medical exams. Wednesday was Day Two in that process for the kickers, linemen and tight ends and it featured, among other things, their collective turn in the media interview room.
Before the NFL turned over the microphones to Brandon Scherff and Maxx Williams, however, they gave the podium to a series of head coaches and general managers from around the league. Among those who met the press on Wednesday were Lovie Smith and Jason Licht of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thanks to their position as the number one team in the draft order, the Buccaneers are prominent in the draft discussion at the Combine and will remain so for the next few months.
So, obviously, people want to know what Licht and Smith have to say about the state of the Buccaneers, the draft and, in particular, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. And, just as obviously, Licht and Smith want to accommodate without actually tipping their hands as to what they plan to do with that #1 pick. Given that caveat, here are four things that we could learn from what the Bucs' brain trust had to say on Wednesday in Indianapolis:
1. They are thrilled that the top quarterbacks plan to participate in on-field passing drills on Saturday.
This was by no means a given, and in fact it was a story that slowly worked its way towards full confirmation on Wednesday. Often a quarterback who is already considered a top-five pick will come to Indianapolis for the medical exams and interviews with teams, and even run through some of the measured drills, but not join the other QB prospects in the throwing drills. The last time there were a pair of quarterbacks who were both considered potential #1-overall selections was 2012, and neither Andrew Luck nor Robert Griffin III threw in Indy (though they did perform well in other drills).
The value of the Combine, of course, is that it puts all of the prospects in the same environment, making side-by-side comparisons more valid. Most players come to Indy with something to gain by showing what they can do; it's a reasonable argument that a player largely expected to go very high in the draft can only hurt himself by working out. But Smith thinks that it is important for these potential franchise players to show their competitiveness, especially since the situation is not specifically tailored to favor them.
"Oh, I think whenever you get an opportunity to prove to people what you can do – we haven't seen any of the players live, get a chance to compete," said Smith. "I mean, all your competition that you'll have throughout the rest of your time throughout the draft is here, and for a player to choose to work out in this environment, it's probably not ideal. First time they've probably … thrown here. For the receivers, first time they've caught the ball outside in this environment. It says a lot about them."
The notion that both Mariota and Winston would throw at the Combine was still unconfirmed when Licht took to the podium a little before noon. Eschewing whether or not this was of particular importance to the Buccaneers, Licht nevertheless was hopeful that the reports would prove true.
"I don't want to get specific on a player right now," he said. "I think it's really cool, though, that there's chatter now that they are going to both work out and I think it speaks to their competitiveness and things that we know about both of them. As different as those two are, there are a lot of similarities in terms of their winning pedigree and the Heisman, obviously, but they are both ultra-competitors, so it will be cool just to see them compete against each other."2. The most important thing the quarterbacks can put on display Saturday is their minds.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are among five players to keep an eye on at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
The Buccaneers and any other teams that are considering taking a quarterback early in this year's draft won't need Saturday's workout to tell them how much arm strength or foot speed are possessed by Winston, Mariota, Brett Hundley and the rest of the quarterbacks. They've had plenty of game tape to make that determination, and there will be additional workouts in the coming weeks.
The last question Licht fielded on Wednesday regarded the traits he viewed as most critical to a quarterback's success. His answer was short and to the point: "Mental toughness, football intelligence, decision-making."
Before leaving for the Combine, new Buccaneers Quarterbacks Coach Mike Bajakian pinpointed the ability to process information quickly as the first trait he looks for in a quarterback. Mariota and Winston have disparate playing backgrounds, particularly in regard to the type of offensive systems in which they operated in college, but it could be that quick mind that unites them and makes both players potential franchise QBs.
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"You look in our league right now, there are different quarterbacks," said Smith. "There are some mobile quarterbacks, there are some more drop-back, pocket quarterbacks, but guys are having success doing it a lot of different ways.
"I see two talented players that are different, they have different styles. [They have] won a lot of football games. What do you judge a quarterback by? Accuracy, decision-making, leadership and can he win football games. Both of these players – Marcus has won a lot of games for about the same period of time. Jameis, the same thing, I think he didn't lose a game until the last one he played. That says an awful lot about both of them. I think you have two very good quarterbacks that both will have a lot of success in the league."
3. Even with the incoming quarterbacks on display this week, we shouldn't forget about Mike Glennon.
One thing is certain: There will be at least one addition, if not more, to the Buccaneers' quarterback corps during this offseason. With the release of Josh McCown, the team now has just two passers on the roster in holdover Mike Glennon and first-year man Seth Lobato, who was signed to a 2015 reserve/futures contract in January.
Glennon started 13 games as a rookie in 2013 and another five last year after a Week Three injury to McCown. In between, the franchise made a change at the top, bringing in Smith and Licht to replace Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik, and Smith and Licht brought in McCown. That obviously changed the landscape for the second-year passer, but Smith went on record during the 2014 offseason to say that he saw Glennon as a big part of the team's future.
Apparently, that remains the case as the 2015 offseason gets underway.
"The plan is, well, to move forward with Mike," said Smith. "I mean, it's about that. You look at our roster, Mike's the quarterback on our roster right now, for good reason. Even though he didn't play as much as he liked last year, we saw some things that we really liked in him. Some of our new coaches that came in really liked him. [I] made the statement that we would be moving forward in the future with him and that's where we're at now."
Licht echoed those sentiments.
"We like Mike Glennon," he said. "We want him to be part of the future. We like Mike Glennon a lot."
Just as was the case a year ago, there are certain decisions looming in the months ahead that will affect Glennon's situation. What the Buccaneers ultimately choose to do with the first overall pick is the biggest one. However, those developments will not affect the positive opinion the Buccaneers have about Glennon and his ability to help the team in the future.
4. Speaking of that big decision looming at the end of April, all options are still on the table.
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There are still 71 days until the Buccaneers will have to announce what they are doing with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. There is simply no reason for them to finalize that decision in February and sweep all other possibilities off the board.
"I don't want to set a deadline here, put a false deadline in place right now," said Licht, regarding when the team would make its decision final. "We're still two plus months out, so we have a lot of time yet."
That doesn't mean, of course, that the Buccaneers aren't privately leaning one way or another. It just means that this is the time of year to keep your options open. Take a quarterback, take which quarterback, get the defense some help, trade down…those questions are still being mulled over. And that's an enjoyable process, not a painful one.
"If you have to be in this position, yeah, you're always looking for the franchise quarterback and people want to talk about the quarterback," said Smith. "And if you're down there and you have an opportunity, you have to really look at that closely, which we'll do. But we like just having options, all options, on the table for us. We like being in that position and seeing what happens in the end."