Approach to Signal-Caller
In a post-Tom Brady world, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a true competition at quarterback between journeyman veteran Baker Mayfield and third-year holdover Kyle Trask. Both have received first-team reps during Organized Team Activities (OTAs), lobbying for the starting gig come fall. The Bucs signed Mayfield to a one-year deal in March, pairing him with the club's 2021 second-round pick. The Cleveland Browns traded Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers at the outset of the 2022 season, and in seven contests (six starts), Mayfield completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns against six interceptions.Subsequently, the Panthers released Mayfield in December and the Los Angeles Rams picked him up after placing veteran Matthew Stafford on injured reserve with a spinal contusion. Mayfield appeared in the Rams final five games of the 2022 campaign, making four starts. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 850 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Conversely, Trask has appeared in just one NFL game during his tenure, which came during the regular-season finale against the Falcons in Week 18 last season. He completed three of nine passes in that low-stakes matchup with the division already locked up. Both Trask and Mayfield will have a fresh slate in 2023, under the tutelage of Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. When asked about his evaluation of both quarterbacks, Todd Bowles assessed the qualities that he places an emphasis on including absorption of the offensive playbook, reading the defense/reacting, dedication to film study and in-game adjustments.
"It's a little different because you don't hit the quarterbacks in OTAs, nor do you hit them in mini-camps or even training camp until they play games," Bowles elaborated. "So, you really don't know who is what under pressure. From an analyzing standpoint, again it's the grasp of the offense, it's the reading of the defense – it's not necessarily making the big play but the right play. Then it comes down to moxie, it comes down to intelligence – in-game intelligence and adjustments and fits and film work. You can see who the team galvanizes around and who's ready to play the first game and you make a decision from there. It's constant analyzation, whether it's small or whether it's big – it's constant analysis from now up until we name a starter."
Getting Playmakers the Ball
Mike Evans is the only player in NFL history to record nine consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin his career. He reached the monumental milestone during the final stretch of the 2022 season, but with the team's inconsistent offense and lack of a downfield passing attack for the majority of the year, that feat did not seem plausible with the trend at Week 14. Prior to the final four games of the 2022 slate, Evans averaged 67.1 receiving yards per game and during the five-game stretch before that, he posted just 45.6 yards per contest.
The shift occurred in Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defend their 2021 NFC South title. Mike Evans became the offensive catalyst. Evans caught 10 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina, becoming the first player in team history to record 200-plus receiving yards and three scores in a single game – all three came on go routes. The Panthers used a lot of Cover One, creating favorable one-on-one matchups for Evans on the outside. Chris Godwin also racked up 120 yards on nine receptions in that game and the Buccaneers had two 100-yard receivers in the same contest for the first time since Evans and Antonio Brown did it in October of 2021. Despite the story-book stat line to conclude the year, the decrease in Evans' targets during the 2022 season was problematic. Evans, the team's jump-ball specialist, sets the tone and Bowles confirmed that getting him the football is a top priority in 2023.
"I think we made it a priority last year – sometimes it was shut down, sometimes we just misread it here and there, whether it was on the receiver, the [quarterback] or offensive linemen," Bowles stated. "We've got to get better in that area in getting him the football. We know he's a threat and we know he's a great player, so we've got to constantly find ways – not just him, but Chris [Godwin] as well – we've got to find ways to get those guys the ball."
Revamped Offense Under Dave Canales
Excitement builds for the Bucs' new offensive system. The scheme under Dave Canales is expected to bear resemblance to the one implemented in Seattle with Geno Smith at the helm. The Seahawks offense was coordinated by Shane Waldron, who came to Seattle from the Rams and the Sean McVay coaching tree. Dave Canales is another pupil in the aforementioned coaching circuit, as he worked under Waldron for the previous two seasons. The Bucs' offense in 2023 is projected to have an uptick in movement, with an emphasis on bootlegs, wide zone runs, misdirection and play-action. The premise is to use a variety of looks out of the same concepts, similar to that of McVay or Kyle Shanahan. To Kyle Trask, the system has sparked anticipation and elation.
"Yeah, I would say our old scheme from the last couple of years was definitely more geared toward throwing from the pocket," Trask described. "This new scheme allows you to get outside the pocket and use your legs more. That's really exciting for me. As a quarterback, anytime you can get out on the edge it's really exciting to throw one on the run or get outside the pocket and make a play [or] run for a first down or something like that… I just think it's really exciting for us to get the movements in the backfield going and the boots away. You see all of the success this system has had with the heavy play-action and taking shots. It gives you a lot of protection if you're able to do the keepers off of the play-action. That's just really exciting for a quarterback any time you can turn on film and see a play-action where you've got nobody within 10 yards of you. It all ties in together. They've been doing this for decades [with] the system they're coming from, so they know exactly how to do it. We've all just really bought in and I am excited to see where this goes."
Chris Godwin's Leadership
After working his way back from a torn ACL and ensuing reconstructive surgery last January, along with missing two games due to a hamstring injury, Godwin still eclipsed the 1,000-yard marker (1,023) and hit a career-high in catches with 104 during the 2022 season. He has established himself as one of the best slot weapons in football, consistently picking up RAC-yardage following catches in the short-to-intermediate area of the field. When the opposition used a two-high shell, Godwin exploited the underneath area of the field. Godwin is a cornerstone of the Bucs offense and will play more of a versatile role in 2023, lining up on the outside as well. Although he is a vested veteran with his role on the roster entrenched, Godwin has been at voluntary OTAs, continuing to refine his craft. Trask expressed his appreciation for Godwin's attendance and the cultivation of growth that has transpired.
"I think that's huge, not only for him [but also] the locker room because he has been such a great leader for us," Trask said. "What he has done here winning [a] Super Bowl, and for him to still be here during OTAs, shows a lot about his leadership. We really respect that. It's also really huge for the young guys to see someone of his caliber still coming to work in the middle of the offseason trying to get better. It's really an important thing for the young guys to see – you can have all of the success that Chris has had and still try to get better."