Beware of reading too much into recent offensive hires by Bucs
Forget about all the chatter that has come with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ hires of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian — about how the "stars are aligned" for Marcus Mariota to wear pewter and red next season, about how the No. 1 pick is all but decided, about how there’s little drama left between now and April 30 but to wait for Roger Goodell to deliver the official word.
The guesses are well intentioned, but they’re still predictions, as susceptible to being wrong as a Northeast blizzard forecast.
Let the process play out. Let decisions be made. Let the Super Bowl come and go, for goodness’ sake.
Can a cap be placed on how many tea leaves can be read?
Reports in recent weeks have all but stitched Mariota’s name on the back of a Bucs jersey. There’s Koetter’s history with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, which some say SURELY means the former Ducks quarterback is Tampa-bound. There’s Bajakian’s spread background, which some say SURELY means fans throughout Tampa Bay can dream about Mariota billboards, Mariota stadium facades, Mariota buzz upon buzz as the Bucs attempt to rise from the NFL’s ashes.
All that may happen someday, but pump the breaks for now.
The rush to dub Mariota as the Bucs’ choice at No. 1 is a revealing look into the race to provide meaning for each minor development in a breakneck sports-media culture. Intrigue drives interest, which leads to eyeballs, which leads to precious reaction. It’s seen everywhere from the build-up to National Signing Day to free-agency developments throughout the major professional leagues. It’s part of modern life.
The NFL draft is included in the frenzy. Within the Tampa Bay region and elsewhere, of course there’s curiosity about the player the Bucs will favor in their choice between Mariota and Jameis Winston, if they select a quarterback at No. 1. The topic will turn hotter.
But a rush to understand doesn’t always include wisdom.
Say the hires of Koetter and Bajakian mean the Bucs have chosen to make Mariota the top pick. Would it not be concerning that Lovie Smith and Jason Licht made up their minds after brief looks in Pasadena, California, and Arlington, Texas? Would it not be concerning that they made their choice before deeper scouting and the chance to use each possible tool at their disposal prior to draft day?
A rushed process would be no right way to approach the most important choice of their time together, a choice that may make or break their regime in Tampa. It would be like buying a house sight unseen. It would be like entering into marriage with someone after a coffee date at Starbucks.
It would be silly and reckless, especially considering the pair must produce fast after the 2-14 failure last season.
Why make Mariota the pick in January when so much can be learned in February, March and April?
Mariota, of course, is an intriguing prospect. There’s the speed. There’s the decision-making. There’s the poise on the field. There’s the way he carries himself off it, which suggests he has the personality to be trusted to lead a franchise.
But there’s also more worth discovering. What about the valid concerns that he’s a product of Oregon’s electric system? What about the adjustment that comes with taking a majority of snaps behind center?
Mariota is no Andrew Luck. He’s no foolproof pick. All the doubts must be analyzed and answered to the best of the Bucs’ ability. If it’s that obvious to be written, then it’s safe to say the thought has crossed the minds of Smith and Licht as well.
Anyway, recent history shows caution must be used when considering coaching connections to quarterback prospects. Last year, many surmised that the Carr family’s ties to then-Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford would make Derek Carr an appealing option for Tampa Bay. Instead, the Fresno State product went to the Oakland Raiders in the second round at 36th overall, and Smith had no shortage of positive words late in the season for Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs’ first two selections.
So take the predictions for what they are meant to be — best guesses and nothing more. Naturally, there’s interest in trying to track each move by the Bucs before the draft, as if all developments hold the answer to some deeper meaning.
But chances are, Smith admired Koetter from afar and figured the former Falcons offensive coordinator would be the right man to make the Bucs relevant on that side of the ball. Little more.
Chances are, Bajakian’s role as an offensive quality control coach with the Chicago Bears under Smith helped the former University of Tennessee offensive coordinator land Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach job. Little more.
Enjoy the forecasts. But remember they deserve skepticism like all unknowns.