Can Fitzpatrick win as a Bucs’ backup?

by Gary Shelton on July 28, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Fitzpatrick won two games for the Bucs in '17./CARMEN MANDATO

Fitzpatrick won two games for the Bucs in '17./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 2 a.m.

For now, it is his team.

For now, his is the voice in the huddle. For now, his is the guide to the offense. For now, he holds the keys to the Bucs' season in his hands.

For now, he is the quarterback.

Will Ryan Fitzpatrick be up to the challenge?

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Fitzpatrick, the Bucs' backup quarterback, will be in charge for at least the early part of the schedule. Fitzpatrick, who won two games a year ago for Tampa Bay, figures to start the season's first three games when the Bucs' are underdogs against New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Fitz was handed the keys to the offense when starter Jameis Winston was suspended for three games.

“I thought I had seen and been through it all, but another year, another different situation," Fitzpatrick said. "I think the biggest thing in all of this is just we’re all professionals and we’re just communicating as well. In terms of the reps and what’s going on, I’m fortunate enough to have played in a lot of games, and sometimes playing in a lot of games where I didn’t get any preseason reps with the ones or training camp offseason reps with the ones. I can kind of go about it both ways. In terms of timing, there’s guys that are easier to throw to than others. Getting the reps in practice and in some of those preseason games will be good live reps to get with some of the receivers just to get the timing down."

Some have suggested that if Fitzpatrick starts the season well, he might be the starting quarterback beyond Week Three. Unless there is an injury, however, that's tough to foresee. Winston has taken almost every snap he's healthy for since he's been a Buc.

“I’ve learned that you view it as a one-game-at-a-time opportunity," Fitzpatrick said. "That’s just the way it is in this league, and in 2015 when I played with the Jets, I was a backup and ended up being the whole year with the situation there. In 2016 I was a starter and I ended up getting benched three times during the year. Every year is different. You have to take it game by game and just go from there.

“The season hasn’t even started yet, so it’s a cliché but it’s one game at a time. You have to look at it that way. Not even based off last year, talent wise, looking at the team we have out here, I’m in the huddle on offense and it’s a pretty exciting huddle to be in as a quarterback looking at some of those guys.”

Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter thinks the Bucs can have success with Fitzpatrick.

"I just think Ryan's a good football player at any stage of his career,"
Koetter said. "My first exposure to Ryan after high school was, I was in Jacksonville and we played them when he was in Cincinnati. I've just always watched him. I think he's just got the right moxie to play quarterback, and he's done it for a bunch of different teams. We're fortunate enough to have him. We saw what he could do when he was our starter last year for three games. There's no reason for us to be afraid of Ryan playing quarterback for us. He's going to play fine."

Now in his 14th season, Fitzpatrick has played enough games  in enough systems to be confident.

“I always rely on that past experience and part of it, too, is that we’ve got some superstar receivers right here," Fitzpatrick said. "I always try to, in my head, relate them to guys I’ve played with or combinations of guys I’ve played with and what has been successful for me with them. I think with all that, just as I alluded to before with the reps at quarterback and all that, open communication with those guys, that’s something over the years that I’ve really grown to love and learn to do really well. I think leaning on plenty of that past experience not just on the field, but in how you treat guys or how you deal with guys whether it’s up front or receivers or the different personalities, that’s some of the good experience I have and why I still  love playing the game.”

Teammate Gerald McCoy likes playing with Fitzpatrick.

“Oh it’s great man," McCoy said. "He can help not just Jameis, but the team in many ways. He’s seen a lot of different teams, been on numerous different teams, had a lot of different opportunities, has had some failures and some successes, and he can help Jameis with his experience. He can help all of us with the things he’s seen. So it’s always great to have a guy like Fitz on the team.”

For his career, Fitzpatrick has started 119 of 133 games. He's 48-70-1, and he's thrown for 173 touchdowns.

“I think leadership comes in all different forms, shapes and sizes," Fitzpatrick said. "I think the biggest thing with it is that you have to be genuine and you have to be yourself. We are two different personalities. For me, I’m just genuine in myself and that seems to work for me. That’s the way that I do it, and everybody has a different style, but the most important thing is that guys want to follow you. They want you in that huddle with them and they have confidence when you’re in the huddle and up there on the line. That’s the most important thing, to gain the trust and the confidence of the guys you’re in the huddle with.”

Koetter said that leadership won't be an issue.

"Ryan's a really good leader, too," Koetter said. "He's a different type of leader, alright? And if you've been around people at all, you know that not all leaders are the same. That goes throughout history. Jameis is a vocal leader and Ryan is a little bit less vocal leader but still a real good leader nonetheless. I think his style will show up. Again, when a backup quarterback is brought to a team, especially a veteran, the coaching staff tells him that he's there to be the backup, right? To be the backup, to support the starter. Well, that's not the case right now. I think we'll see and I think the players will feel what I saw way back many years ago, the type of leader Ryan is when it's his show.

"We're not going to miss a beat with Ryan at quarterback. I don't know if everybody's worried about that or not, but I'm certainly not."








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