Fitzpatrick ready to fill in as an understudy

by Gary Shelton on September 7, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Fitzpatrick hopes to win one for the backups./CARMEN MANDATO

Fitzpatrick hopes to win one for the backups./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

His job description, to put it indelicately, is Miss Congeniality. If the pageant winner pulls a hamstring, then he might get to walk down the runway.

On a football team, he is the vice president. In a Broadway play, he would be the understudy. He's the second-best mechanic at the auto shop, and he's walking toward your car with a wrench in hand.

He's the guy with the clipboard. The guy you do now want to see play. The backup bugle blower in this man's cavalry.

He is the backup quarterback.

Just the mention of his name can send chills up your spine.

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Oh, everyone loves the backup quarterback when he succeeds. You'll slap him on the back and talk of the old times. Ah, but most backup quarterbacks are limited. Otherwise, they would not be backups. They make pretty good coin, and they get to pose in the team picture, but no one really wants to see them when the game is on the line.

So here we are with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the guy who isn't Jameis Winston, as the 2018 football season begins for the Bucs. The first-mate is in charge of the helm, and it is his job to get the ship through the rough waters.

It isn't the best way to start a season, is it? In front of Fitzpatrick are three formidable opponents, New Orleans and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. All Fitzpatrick has to do is to spread the ball among his receivers, and find some hint of a running game, and hope his offensive line doesn't collapse, and take on an improved Saints' defense.

Just that.

As for offensive coordinator Todd Monken, he doesn't think the task is that difficult.

"I don’t think it’s very big at all," Monken said. "We went 2-1 last year with Fitz as our quarterback. It’s a team game. We’ve got to play well around him. I thought we played well around him last year. I think we’ve played well around him in the preseason, so I don’t see that at all as an issue.”

Monken might be whistling through the graveyard. NFL history is full of forgotten backups who fell short. Now, Tom Savage wasn't always the backup for Houston last year (he started seven games), but no one would argue that he wasn't the second-best quarterback and the roster. He finished 1-6. Jay Cutler lost eight games (winning six) as a Dolphins' backup. Brock Osweiler went 0-4 with Denver, and fellow backup Paxton Lynch went 0-2.

Hey, the league is built around starting quarterbacks. The rules protect him more than any other player. He makes more money than most of his teammates.

That's what makes it so hard.

You could argue that Fitzpatrick's first three weeks are about as har as any that a backup quarterback has faced. Two 13-game winners and an 11-game winner pponent.

Back in 1990, Jeff Hostetler had two-regular season starts before the playoffs (and an 8-8 opponent during them). Nick Foles had two starts at the end of the regular season. Doug Williams faced an 8-7 team in his playoffs. Granted, the stakes are higher in the playoffs, but these three teams won 37 games a year ago.

Fitzpatrick thinks that knowing that he was going to be the starter in camp is an advantage.

“I think that the reps that I was able to get with some of the guys during training camp – I think that’s helpful," Fitzpatrick said. "You know, having a year under my belt of being comfortable in the offense and then getting some time to throw some balls to those guys to interact and talk with the lineman to get on the same page. And Ryan Jensen being a new guy in our system, the more time the better, and because of the situation, I was able to get a few more reps than I normally would.

"The group that we have this year -- we’ve got to go out there and do it, but the potential is there. The talent is there in all position groups, but potential only goes so far. We’ve got to go out there and prove it, but so far the way those guys — especially in that receiver room — the way that they’ve worked this offseason and the attitude they bring to practice every day, the skillsets, the different varying skillsets that we have in that room are really impressive, so does that mean a whole lot? No, if we don’t produce. We’ve got to be able to – I’ve got to be able to spread it out to those guys and let them do what they’re good at and hopefully the production comes.”

In other words, Fitzpatrick doesn't have to match Drew Brees' production. He just has to guide his team to victory.

"The biggest thing with all the quarterbacks is not turning it over, and that’s what we didn’t do," Monken said. "That’s the number one thing. There’s no stat for how many five-yard or 10-yard completions you get that gives you a chance to win. It’s the turnovers that kill you and they’ve done a great job. That’s a carryover from practice.”

Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter agrees that limiting mistakes is important.

"Not turning it over is a good thing," Koetter said. "Overall in preseason and practice other than the second week. Week 1 I think we had one turnover the whole week. Week 2 we had a bunch. And then after that we got back on kind of on a good track. So, we need to just keep it right where it is.”

Hey, some backups made a name for themselves.

Remember Doug Williams in 1987? He took over for Washington at the start of the post-season and out-dueled John Elway in the Super Bowl. Earl Morrall won league MVP with the '68 Colts and led the Dolphins for most of the unbeaten season of 1972.  Foles won the Super Bowl last year. Hostetler won the Super Bowl with the Giants. And so forth.

Oh, let's don't be silly. Dan Marino didn't start the 1983 season for Miami, but it was eventual. It was the same with Tom Brady in 2001.

But true backups, guys who filled in and then returned to the shadows once the season started, are rare.


He just has to win Sunday. That's all.






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