There are plenty of reasons for Clyde Christensen, a 25-year NFL coaching veteran who is currently tutoring the quarterbacks in Tampa Bay, to love his job right now. For one thing, the Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champs, and winning on that scale brings immense satisfaction for any coach. But there is an additional factor to the 2021 Buccaneers that has brought him back to something he hasn't enjoyed in nine years: a rookie quarterback to develop.
Christensen was in the same position with the Indianapolis Colts when they drafted Andrew Luck in 2012. The two situations aren't totally analogous because Luck was the first-overall pick in that year's draft and was clearly ticketed to be a Day One starter as a rookie. The rookie that Christensen is working with now is Kyle Trask, the last pick of the second round in this year's draft and a player most likely to spend at least two years learning behind Tom Brady.
Christensen had four years with Luck, then went to Miami where starter Ryan Tannehill was already in his fifth season in 2016. When Tannehill blew out an ACL in training camp the following summer, the Dolphins coaxed veteran quarterback Jay Cutler out of the broadcast booth for one more season. Upon returning in 2019 to Tampa, where he started his NFL career back in 1996, Christensen found himself first working with fifth-year man Jameis Winston and then, of course, the G.O.A.T. last year.
But now there's a rookie in the room, and while Trask does not need to be any kind of immediate savior like Luck it's still a chance for Christensen to flex some dormant coaching muscles.
"Now Trask, that energizes me," said Christensen on Thursday after the team's last OTA practice. "You see a guy like Trask who wants to be good and now I feel like we're starting again. I think probably the last time I probably had a guy like him was Luck in his rookie year. That was one of the most fun years there was because you come in with just kind of a clean slate and you start rolling. It's really, really been fun."
View the best photos from the sixth day of Bucs OTAs.
Christensen isn't the only Bucs coach having fun. The "clean slate" that is Trask is appealing to Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich, too. Trask led the nation in 2020 with 43 touchdown passes and was a Heisman Trophy finalist but apparently none of that translates to knowing what to do in the NFL.
"It's actually been great to have a guy where you're starting from scratch," said Leftwich. "The guy knows nothing about nothing, right? We assume all quarterbacks coming into this league know nothing about nothing, so it's great to start from the beginning, start from the first brick. He's been doing an excellent job. He's been doing great, he's been getting better every day.
"He's a smart kid that knows what he's doing – he's just got to get repetitions. The more repetitions he gets, the better he'll get with more reps. But I like where he's at. He does a lot of good stuff right now for being this early. He sees the field well and he's able to command the huddle. He's had a good start since he's been here; hopefully we can keep it up."
Trask has had a total of nine practices so far between mini-camp and two weeks of OTAs, and all of them have been with a group of mostly young players fighting for the back-end depth chart spots. He obviously has a long way to go but that just happens to work perfectly with the position he's in, with Brady under contract for two more years and veterans Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin likely vying for the main backup job. The Buccaneers can afford to be very deliberate about how they develop Trask into an NFL passer, and that just happens to be the way the rookie is choosing to learn in the early going.
"Here's how I would describe him: a really deliberate learner," said Christensen. "He takes it nice and slow, he tries to get the details of the thing, and then once he gets it, he gets it. He's not one of those guys who looks at it once and he's got it. He's going to mull over it, he's going to call most nights with some questions – 'Hey, what do you think on this, what do you think on that?' He watches a ton of film. That rookie mini-camp, a couple times I left here and by the time I left the building the light was still on in the quarterback room. He was in there kind of just going over his notes. So it means a ton to him and I think he'll be a guy who will get it slow and steady but then get it the right way and have it in order. I think he'll be really deliberate in how he processes all this information."
Christensen's first impressions of Trask in these opening practices is that he has shown good accuracy and he's been able to pick up most of what the coaches are throwing at him. But they are throwing a lot at him, and that has at times had Trask's head "swimming" a little bit. But he's showing that he knows how to come up for air and then dive back into the task.
"There's no shortcut on this thing but he's getting a lot of great reps," said Christensen. "It's been good having Griff here because that gives him someone who's kind of done this stuff before. It gives him a chance to model it out in front of him. He's been impressive. He's done a good job…hit the wall a little bit today. Again, we hit him with all the situations so that now it will be a repeat going into mini-camp and we'll do everything for the second time through."
Trask will have another coach at practice next week when the team holds its mandatory three-day mini-camp: Tom Brady. Arians has indicated that he doesn't expect to put Brady, who is wrapping up his recovery from offseason knee surgery, into the practice action very much and that Brady "might be doing a lot of coaching." Christensen will finally have a full meeting room with Brady and Gabbert joining in, but it's Trask who is still going to demand the most attention.
"It's fun to have a rookie guy," said the coach. "Those other guys are well down the road, they understand what we're doing. They're kind of more maintenance, as far as coaching them. It's not like you're having to rebuild anything. Just to have a young rookie guy is really, to me, one of the fun things about coaching. You just start from the beginning, you start from scratch there. He'll be a fun guy to be around this year and just kind of build into, start from the beginning, which is kind of a bunch of pieces on the ground, start building the way you want it built."