The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their 2021 preseason on Saturday with a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium. Tom Brady is expected to start at quarterback but, given his vast stockpile of NFL experience, probably won't be asked to direct more than a drive or two (and possibly less if Tropical Storm Fred has drenched the field).
To Brady, who is in his 22nd NFL training camp, the first game is mostly a welcome change from weeks of practice…perhaps a reward for all that hard work at team headquarters.
"The team's worked hard through camp – it's nice to get the first game," he said after Thursday's practice. "We've been at it for about three weeks so it will be nice to get out there and play and see what guys can do, kind of see what we can do in the first preseason game and see where we're at against another team. So it should be a lot of fun."
In contrast, Saturday's game will be the first of any kind at the NFL level for former University of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay's second-round pick in the most recent draft. Head Coach Bruce Arians has to decide how he wants to get his four quarterbacks onto the field – with veteran reserves Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin also in the mix – but Arians has previously said that "everybody" would play in the game. So Trask should at some point be making his NFL debut on Saturday night.
That's another important step for a young player who has spent years waiting and battling for his chance to play in both high school and college.
"It means a lot," said Trask of his first NFL action. "Growing up, watching NFL football, having the chance to play in any kind of game, I'm super-excited. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play and do the best I can."
Trask said that he does not yet know how Arians will divvy up the reps but there are only so many in one game and four quarterbacks to get involved. Last year, the average NFL game contained roughly 64 offensive snaps; an even division of that would give each passer 16 plays on Saturday night. Of course, there's no guarantee Trask will get an even share. He knows from experience simply to be ready for what he does get.
"This is not a position that I haven't been in before," he said. "In college, I had to work my way up, and so I knew what it was like to be a backup and not get as many reps. That's the NFL. If you're not the starter you're probably not going to get as many reps as the starter, so you have to make the most of what you get and definitely be taking mental reps every opportunity that you can."
Whether or not Trask can develop into an eventual successor for Brady with the Buccaneers remains to be seen and Saturday's game certainly won't answer the question. But the veteran quarterback has already seen something in Trask's approach that bodes well for his future.
"Kyle's doing a great job," said Brady. "From the day that he got here he's a very hard-worker. [Quarterbacks Coach] Clyde [Christensen] works extremely hard with him to get him ready to go. Kyle's out here early, stays late, works with the younger guys. All the things that you're really looking for in a young player. It's just got to be a huge priority in your life. If you want to be doing this job for a long time you've got to make it a huge priority."
Trask has shown how much he is prioritizing football by getting in extra work with Christensen before practices, primarily working on technical details like footwork. For instance, Trask worked primarily out of the shotgun at Florida so a main focus for him and his coach have been perfecting his footwork on dropbacks from under center. Trask feels like he's made good progress in that regard and he'll get a chance to put it on game tape Saturday. More than any specific technique, though, what Arians wants to see from the rookie is basic efficiency.
"Basically get in and out of the huddle," said Arians. "He processes information extremely well, so just get them in and out of the huddle, get them lined up and let's roll. Avoid pre-snap penalties and all the stuff that you don't want to see. We haven't seen it out here so we shouldn't see it in the ballgame."
It's been a long, long time since Brady has been a rookie getting ready to play in his first NFL preseason game. For the record, the sixth-round pick out of Michigan was the third quarterback into the Patriots' 2000 preseason opener against San Francisco, following Drew Bledsoe and Michael Bishop, and he completed three of four passes for 28 yards. Not bad…but obviously things would get a whole lot better over the next two decades. Brady knows this is just the first step for Trask and a lot of young players.
"It's just constant development and it's really up to each individual, not only Kyle but I'd say a lot of young players," he said. "You've got to put the work in, you've got to listen, you've got to be humble enough to learn. You can't think you know everything. Football is too difficult of a game and it's not an individual sport. It's a coordination between a lot of different people."