Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Backup Quarterback Effect

A post-OTAs look at how the role of backup quarterback impacts Bruce Arians’ offense as a whole and just how much having a signal caller of his on staff in Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich could help Jameis Winston.


You've heard Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians called the "Quarterback Whisperer" before. He as a book by the same title that details his coaching philosophy along with well placed anecdotes from some of the best recent quarterbacks in the game: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger, for example.

Arians brings a plethora of knowledge as a coach, especially to the quarterback position having been one himself at Virginia Tech. What's more impressive, though, is how he manages to surround his quarterbacks with knowledge from different perspectives. He's routinely had guys familiar with his system backing up his starting signal caller from his time in Pittsburgh, bringing back Byron Leftwich to the Steelers in 2010, a year after he departed for Tampa Bay for one season. Because he was already familiar with the system, Leftwich provided valuable insight for Roethlisberger, acting as essentially another set of eyes for both Ben and Arians. In fact, in Arians' Quarterback Whisperer book, he mentions how Leftwich was always over his shoulder when he was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and would help relay things to Roethlisberger because of it. That made Leftwich's transition to coaching, albeit delayed, pretty seamless.

It's evolved into maybe the most complete support system a starting quarterback could ask for in Arians' offense, which we've now gotten a firsthand look at during OTAs and mini-camp. Leftwich is now the offensive coordinator and Blaine Gabbert, who was with Arians while he was head coach in Arizona, occupies the backup role thus far into 2019. The result is a group that collectively understands probably every possible scenario quarterback Jameis Winston may face.

"Oh, Blaine [Gabbert] knows everything he's doing," Arians said. "This is the first time in his career he's been in the same offense twice. So, it's easy for him right now, because he kind of knows why he's doing things, whereas Jameis [Winston] is learning it all – and they have great communication. And there's no better coach than the backup quarterback. He's just going to tell things the way it really is. Byron [Leftwich] has got that advantage that he's played in the system, so he can see it how he sees it.

"Understanding from being in that pocket and not all from a strategic standpoint. It's excellent."

View the top photos from the Bucs offseason practices.

That aforementioned experience is something Leftwich especially is drawing from. While he may have gotten into coaching due to a nudge from Arians just three years ago, it's something he's inherently been doing as a part of Arians' offense as a player all along. It's made him instantly relatable to the players he's coaching, and his football acumen helps him teach, the latter being one of the most important aspects of the profession according to his boss.

"I think the whole time he's been outstanding," Arians said of Leftwich. "Really, really done a great job in the meeting rooms. I think he first of all is an excellent teacher. He knows what he's talking about. He's a heck of a teacher. So, he's got the guys right where they need to be."

But don't take it from Arians. Take it from the subject himself in Winston:

"Things are going excellent," Winston said. "It's great to have him in the quarterback room. To have a guy who has been there and done that, and was very successful at doing it, it's very good."

As well respected as Arians is, he understands that playing football in college and playing it in the NFL is another animal. Self-awareness is another crucial part of the profession and aids in Arians' effectiveness with his quarterbacks: He knows what he doesn't know. That's why the role of the backup quarterback is so essential in the offense that now calls Tampa Bay home. And Arians has two of them to help develop Winston this season.

"I think I've had a lot of [players] come off to talk to me and I didn't play in the NFL – I coached it," Arians said on how much he thinks having a former quarterback on staff, in particular, helps. "I think it's a respect [factor]. 'What did you see? What's on this picture?' – now video – so that we can communicate on an honest level and so far, so good."