Deciphering the Buccaneers' quarterback preferences

Brian Bahr

What characteristics do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really look for in a quarterback?

What kind of quarterback do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want? That's a very difficult question to answer, given the limited information we have. Sure, there are a few snippets of quotes and analysis we can use, but none of us has a great view of the team's preference at quarterback -- which is certainly part of the reason why we see every quarterback under the sun brought up as a possibility for Lovie Smith and company.

Lovie Smith's own words

One of the first moves the Bucs made in free agency was to sign Josh McCown to be the team's starter. Lovie Smith was, by all indications, the driving factor behind that decision: he knows McCown from his days in Chicago, likes his physical gifts and mental demeanor and trusts him to run the team's offense.

"He's a very good athlete," Smith said at the NFL owners' meetings. "He won't get the credit for being the athlete that he is. He brings mobility to the position. He makes good decisions."

This theme of mobility and athleticism was a running theme throughout Smith's offseason press conferences. "Things that Mike would say that he needs to work on, he's been told all his life, mobility a little bit more, active in the pocket, some of those things."

Smith has mentioned other factors, too, including arm strength, decision making, leadership and every other trait you can think of. But mobility is the one trait that keeps recurring in Smith's talks.

Lovie Smith's quarterback history

Lovie Smith as the Chicago Bears' head coach, saw a ridiculous amount of quarterbacks come and go. 12 different quarterbacks threw at least one pass under Lovie Smith, and while there's a wide variation in height, mobility and accuracy, one characteristic keeps popping up: arm strength.

Rex Grossman, though he wasn't selected by Lovie Smith, had one defining characteristic: a strong arm, and little else. Jonathan Quinn, his first quarterback draft pick, had a strong arm. Chad Hutchinson, the two-sport athlete who couldn't hack it either in the MLB or the NFL, was one of Lovie Smith's first quarterback addition to the Bears when he became head coach. Defining characteristic: strong arm. Jeff Blake, Kyle Orton, Caleb Hanie, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown: all were gifted with strong arms. And then there's Jay Cutler, who has one of the strongest arms in the NFL.

Not every single Lovie Smith quarterback had a strong arm: Craig Krenzel, Todd Collins and Brian Griese weren't gifted with rifles for arms, and both Krenzel and Griese started a handful of games under Smith. But the overriding theme for Lovie Smith's quarterback choices has been arm strength. Andy Dalton need not apply.

Lovie Smith wasn't necessarily making these quarterback decisions. He was never the general manager in Chicago, and did not have final say over their personnel decisions. Similarly, he wasn't the offensive coordinator, and the organization tended to adjust to the coordinators' wishes -- which is why they traded away star tight end Greg Olsen when they hired Mike Martz, a coach who has little use for receiving tight ends.

So don't take Lovie Smith's selection of quarterbacks in Chicago as a definite guide to his preferences for quarterbacks in Tampa. Those decisions in Chicago weren't fully his, and he has a new offensive coordinator with his own preferences. Those factors matter.

Jeff Tedford's history

Speaking of that offensive coordinator, we know a few things about Jeff Tedford, too. He values mobility and a quick release in his quarterbacks, judging by the quarterbacks he has produced in his years in the NFL and his coaching method.

One defining characteristic of Jeff Tedford's school of mechanics is high ball carriage. He's lowered that carriage point over the years, presumably because he figured out it only hurts quarterbacks, but the original aim of that carriage point was to produce a quick release. That, his intelligence and arm strength, and his mobility are what Tedford noted about Aaron Rodgers way back in 2003.

That also fits what Tedford has shown on film in college. He had a preference for quick, defined throws, and for quarterbacks who could move with the pocket -- rollouts and bootlegs were very common, as were spread concepts in later years, and wide receiver screens throughout his career. A quick release and mobility are paramount in that kind of offense.

Conclusion

So, we have three (somewhat weak) indicators of what the Buccaneers may want in a quarterback:

1. Mobility, in Lovie Smith's own words and Jeff Tedford's offensive history.

2. Arm strength, in Lovie Smith's quarterback history.

3. Quick release, in Jeff Tedford's history.

Which quarterbacks in the draft fit that mold?

Derek Carr has all three characteristics, and presents them at a pretty high level. While he has other concerns, most notably his pocket presence, he displays the physical characteristics the Bucs may be looking for. He has a cannon for an arm -- one of the strongest arm in the draft, in fact. He has a very quick release, and he has mobility in excess. In fact, physically he somewhat resembles Aaron Rodgers. And he's also very familiar with Jeff Tedford, who is a friend of the family and has helped Carr over the past year.

Teddy Bridgewater has the quick release (though that could be improved) and the mobility to fit these characteristics, but his arm strength is just okay. It's not horrible, though he struggles on throws beyond 15 yards, but it's certainly far removed from the ideal. He could perhaps make up for that with his understanding of offense.

Johnny Manziel has mobility in abundance and a quick release, though his mechanics are uneven, but he too lacks the arm strength the Bucs may be looking for. His arm is stronger than Bridgewater's, though, and it's certainly not bad -- but it's not a real strength, either.

Blake Bortles has both the mobility and solid arm strength, and a decently quick release. None of these characteristics is particularly great for Bortles, whose main draws should be his pocket presence and his size, but he doesn't have a tremendous issue in any of those three areas.

Logan Thomas has the strongest arm in the draft, oodles of mobility, and at times a quick release -- though that's inconsistent, and his overall play is hardly inspiring. Still, he certainly has the physical tools the Bucs like.

Jimmy Garoppolo has a very quick release, has decent arm strength that may be better than what he shows on film given his offense, and he certainly has the mobility to move the pocket. To me, his lack of pocket presence is a fatal flaw, but perhaps the Bucs see it differently.

A.J. McCarron displays none of these characteristics. You can probably scratch him off your lists.

Aaron Murray doesn't have the arm strength, but flashes mobility and a quick release at times. Neither are particular strengths of his, though.

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