Some NFL training camps open this week and by the end of next week, all 32 teams will be in operation. Preseason games begin in mid-August.
The Bucs travel to Minneapolis to play the Vikings in their first game on Aug. 15. Were it the regular season, Tampa Bay would spend considerable time chasing the up-and-coming Viking star quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. But it is the preseason, so Bridgewater will run his two series and prepare for his next short outing.
Once camp is over and the regular season begins, more than a few prime time quarterbacks will lead their teams into Raymond James Stadium. Prized rookie Marcus Mariotta from Oregon is expected to be the starter for the Tennessee Titans, who open the Bucs season in Tampa on Sept. 13.
Other marquee quarterbacks coming to Tampa this year are Cam Newton (Carolina), Eli Manning (NY Giants), Tony Romo (Dallas), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), and Drew Brees (New Orleans). Chicago and Jay Cutler round out the home schedule.
The Jacksonville Jaguars also visit Tampa. This game is certainly not the highlight of the Oct. 11 schedule. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville ranked 30 and 31, respectively, in total offense last year.
But it does bring a familiar quarterback to RJS. Barring injury, quarterback Blake Bortles will lead the Jaguar offense in his first full season as a starter. Along with his development, Bortles will need more tools around him in order to compete in the AFC Southern Division.
Bortles is a familiar name in west central Florida. During his final season as quarterback for the University of Central Florida Knights in 2013, Bortles led his team to a 12-1 record, including a victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF finished No. 10 in the final polls.
As a sophomore, Bortles’ Knights went 10-4 and routed Ball State in St. Petersburg’s Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. He was the game’s MVP.
He did not reset UCF passing records; many of those still belong to Daunte Culpepper. Instead of gaudy statistics, he turned into a leader and developed the mental toughness and poise it took to win.
By the time he finished his junior season, it was clear he had the arm and the physical characteristics to become an NFL quarterback. As the highest rated quarterback coming out of the draft, the Jaguars took him third overall in 2014.
Jacksonville finished third in the AFC South with a 3-13 record in 2014 after Bortles took over the starting job midyear. Tennessee was actually worse at 2-14, earning them the right to the second selection (Mariotta) in 2015, just behind the Bucs’ choice of Jameis Winston.
Winston will have an opportunity to learn from experience, as Bortles did in 2014 when he became the starter. Bucland is hoping Jameis is a quick learner. He was certainly taught a few lessons by Mariotta in last season’s college football playoff game.
With Brees, Ryan, Romo, Manning, Newton, Andrew Luck, and perhaps Bortles serving as teachers, Lovie Smith and his staff expect a short learning curve.
That’s why Winston was the top pick in the draft.