Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota want no part of a debate over which of the Heisman Trophy winners is destined to have the best pro career, a discussion that’s sure to continue long after their first NFL meeting.
The top two overall picks in this year’s draft understand the intense interest in their highly anticipated debut against each other, but stress Sunday’s season opener is about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans — not which rookie quarterback has progressed the most since joining the teams that went 2-14 a year ago.
Here are five quick hits to consider as Winston and Mariota launch their careers:
LEBEAU FACTOR: The Bucs had difficulty protecting Winston during the preseason, and the Winston figures what Bucs offensive coordinator Brent Koetter refers to as a “pressure test” again with Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau and Titans coordinator Ray Horton drawing up Tennessee’s defensive game plan. Titans LB Brian Orakpo, cautions that it won’t be as simple as taking advantage of a young quarterback’s inexperience. “He went No. 1 for a reason, so we definitely can’t take that lightly,” Orakpo said.
YOUNG BUCS: Winston is one of four rookie starters for Tampa Bay. Left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet are among three newcomers on the offensive line. Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, a fourth-round draft choice, is expected to handle defensive calls in his debut.
YOUTHFUL TITANS: Mariota will be one of two rookies starting on offense for Tennessee. Right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi also will be making his NFL debut against the Bucs after being the Titans’ third-round pick out of Utah.
FOUR WIDE RECEIVERS: The Titans gambled a bit keeping only four receivers with five tight ends. Starting receivers Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas each posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2013, but rookie Dorial Green-Beckham is coming off a sprained left ankle.
MUST-WIN? Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy thinks it is for the Bucs, who’ve lost nine straight regular season home games. “It’s a huge game for us,” McCoy said. “A lot of people say, it’s the first game, it’s a long season. Well, not when you went 2-14 and you didn’t win any games at home last year.”