Every NFL team wants to have a backup quarterback it trusts fully and simultaneously never has to trust in the regular season.
Ideally, the starting QB will perform well enough so that the team never contemplates enlisting the backup's services, and he will also avoid serious injury for 16 games. Of course, that doesn't always happen. Exactly half of the 32 teams had two or more quarterbacks start games last season; the other 16 had to hope they had found and developed at least one more passer with whom they could win games.
Training camp and the preseason is the time to do that. Reserve quarterbacks get plenty of action in practice, of course, and sometimes with the first-line regulars. In Tampa, that first option behind entrenched starter Jameis Winston is Blaine Gabbert, in his first year with the Buccaneers after eight seasons and 48 starts with four other teams.
Winston, Gabbert and the Bucs opened training camp on Friday with a 135-minute early-evening practice. During the full-team and 7-on-7 drills, the team split its 90-man roster into half, with the expected starters and more established players working towards one end zone and the younger and less experienced players working towards the other. Winston, of course, ran with the first-teamers, but so did Gabbert, and both got plenty of reps. Ryan Griffin, who will battle Gabbert for the primary backup spot, directed the younger players.
One practice is obviously not anywhere close to enough information to determine if the Bucs have a strong backup to Winston, but Gabbert at least got off to a good start in his first Tampa training camp. Head Coach Bruce Arians, who got five solid starts out of Gabbert in Arizona in 2017, was not surprised.
"I thought he had a heck of a day. He had some nice deep balls and he knows the offense. He knows when to go to his check-downs and knows when to take his shots. This is his ninth offense and only the second time he has been in the same one. The guy can really play. It’s a shame that early in his career he had three offensive coordinators in his first three years. I like the guy – he can play."
Arians said there were wins and losses for both the offense and defense during the long practice, and there were definitely times that the team's young defensive backs were getting their hands on the football. But Arians said that Winston "looked fantastic," and there wasn't much drop-off when Gabbert went under center.
One of the better stretches for the offense came during a 12-play red zone drill, with the ball snapped each time from the 19-yard line. Winston started the drill with what appeared to be a perfect touchdown pass to Evans on a deep slant. On the second-to-last play of the period, Gabbert wisely looked to the Bucs' top receiver, too, and the result was perfect.
"I was really pleased," said Arians. "I thought it was great intensity. A lot of speed on the field [from] both sides. The ebb and flow of practice was pretty good. Defense won some. Offense won some. So, it was a very, very good start and hopefully we come back and stack a couple of these type of practices together."
Gabbert also notably connected with new Buc wide receiver Breshad Perriman on a deep ball in a later drill. Griffin, who has been with the Buccaneers for four years, will surely still make his own case as the Bucs' best option behind Winston, and the four preseason games will provide the best evidence, but at the very least Gabbert made a good first impression as camp begin.