Orlovsky proving a perfect tutor for Freeman
TAMPA, Fla. — In a funny way, Dan Orlovsky might boast the perfect resume as the new No. 2 quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Scroll down his list occupational experiences to 2008 and you’ll notice the distinct historical connection he shares with the Bucs.
Orlovsky was a backup on the woeful Detroit Lions club that became the NFL’s first 0-16 team — linking him, at least in spirit, to the expansion Tampa Bay franchise of 1976 that went 0-14, the most losses in a winless season until Detroit came along.
Now scroll up to last year when the eighth-year pro was a member of the Indianapolis Colts, a team that unraveled with Peyton Manning sidelined by a season-long neck injury. The 1-15 Colts lost their first 13 games of the year, while the 4-12 Bucs were en route to losing their final 10.
The truth is, Orlovsky’s ability to handle adversity — massive adversity, at that — is one of the attributes that no doubt appealed to the Bucs when they signed him in March to play a supporting role to quarterback Josh Freeman.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound passer from the University of Connecticut knows what it’s like to handle the challenges that accompany losing. And he also knows how to win, having played an understudy role on the explosive offense of the Houston Texans in 2009 and 2010.
“I’ve definitely had some unique situations and adversity and been through some tough stretches and practices, which happens a lot in this league,” he said. “There are very few teams that go for long stretches of success. And so I think it’s a good thing that I’ve been able to learn how to be the guy when it’s good and how to be the guy when it’s bad. . . . So yeah, I’ve had my fair share of difficult situations, and I’ve always tried to learn from them.”
Add it all up and Orlovsky appears to be an ideal mentor for Freeman. Coming off a season in which his performance plummeted, the face of the Bucs franchise could benefit both from being pushed a bit in practice — and guided by the insights of a capable veteran who’s experienced the highs and lows of the game.
Anyone who watched Tampa Bay’s 20-7 victory over Miami Friday night in the exhibition opener at Dolphins Stadium witnessed a few of those highs: Orlovsky followed Freeman and completed all eight of his passes for 91 yards, including a 44-yard bomb to free agent wideout Tiquan Underwood to set up a touchdown.
“I’ve been dealing with some good players and good coaches, and hopefully (I can) just come in and kind of impart that on Josh,” he said. “I’d kind of be the person that comes in behind him — I don’t want to say teaches him — but (shows him) anything I’ve learned along the way to allow him to continue to grow as a pro, continue to grow as this team’s quarterback.”
Orlovsky is a different kind of understudy than the most recent No. 2, Josh Johnson. He gave the Bucs an option as a threat to run on set plays, but he wasn’t proven as a player who could take the reins of the offense. His brief, rocky run as starter in 2009 demonstrated that.
Schiano said Monday that the 28-year-old Orlovsky is exactly what the Bucs need in a backup.
“He is a veteran, no doubt,” Schiano said following practice. “A true pro. He prepares like that. He’s great for our quarterback room. I would have confidence in him if we had to put him in a game. He’s very, very sure of what he’s doing, very confident running the show. I’m really glad we have him here.”
Furthermore, Schiano stressed that Orlovsky got rave reviews as a hard worker with a team-first mindset everywhere else he has played.
“I know the guys that Dan has backed up really enjoyed having him there with them because he works like he’s the starter, and he works to help the starter prepare to win games,” he said. “He’s a team guy, and my history with Dan goes all the way back to when he was at Connecticut and he was a quarterback against us (at Rutgers), and (Huskies coach) Randy Edsall used to tell me stories about his work ethic that were above and beyond. He hasn’t changed.”
Orlovsky hasn’t always operated outside the quarterback spotlight. At Connecticut’s Shelton High, he threw for 2,489 yards and a jaw-dropping 58 touchdowns to lead the school to a 12-0 record and the state championship, earning All-American honors.
At UConn, he earned the starting job as a sophomore and as a junior ranked seventh in the nation in passing, with 3,485 yards and 33 touchdowns.
After a less spectacular senior year, Orlovsky was drafted in the fifth round (145th overall) of the 2005 draft by the Lions, backing up Jeff Garcia and Joey Harrington among others, and not taking a regular-season snap in 2006 or 2007. He made his first career start in a 12-10 loss to the Vikings in October 2008, the losing margin resulting from a play in which he accidentally stepped out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
In 2009, Orlovsky signed with the Texans. He lost out to Rex Grossman for the backup job that year before becoming No. 2 behind Matt Schaub in 2010. Then he signed with Colts for the 2011 season as the team’s fortunes sank without Manning to direct the offense. Still, Orlovsky kept learning all he could. And after taking over for Curtis Painter on Nov. 30, he completed 31 of 37 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to New England on Dec. 4.
Three weeks later, he was at the helm when the Colts won their first game of the season, ending the unpleasant possibility of playing on yet another 0-16 club.
Along the way, Orlovsky has learned to accept life as a backup, though it doesn’t change the way he competes or practices.
“I don’t feel like I’ve ever accepted it as far as the complacency aspect of it,” he said. “But I understand it, and I kind of embrace that this is where I’m at. Since I was a kid I’ve always worked hard, so being the ‘2’ or the ‘1’ has never changed my work ethic, and I don’t think it ever will.
“But I definitely have embraced my role and the fact that I have to be ready to play with limited rep, that I need to be on it mentally, that I kind of need to be a pick-me-up energy guy, that I sometimes need to be Josh’s set of eyes, a guy who can impart some knowledge to him without trying to make it sound like I’m a-know-it- all. It’s a unique dynamic. And one of the great things is that we’ve started to establish a really good friendship.”
When it comes to being a good No. 2, all of that puts Orlovsky right at the top.