The scenery has changed, but don’t let that lead you to believe that the final picture is any different.
The indicators still are pointing toward Florida State's Winston being the first overall pick in the draft by the Buccaneers. But we’ve been hearing – and will continue to hear – about another quarterback being eyed by the Bucs.
That’s Oregon’s Mariota. Timing has thrust him and the Bucs into the spotlight. Mariota had his pro day in Oregon last week. General manager Jason Licht and several team officials were there.
Mariota is visiting with the team at One Buccaneer Place on Monday. The team also will conduct a private workout for Mariota in April. That doesn’t mean there has been a sudden shift that put Mariota in the lead.
It just means the Bucs are being diligent and doing their homework. Even if Winston ends up being the choice, the Bucs need to see exactly what the alternative is. When you’re talking about investing millions of dollars in a player, that’s the only prudent thing to do.
The Bucs need to know Mariota as well as they know Winston. They already have been down the road a bit with Winston. He has already made his visit.
Now it’s Mariota’s turn. It’s unlikely Mariota will have to talk as much about off-field issues as much as Winston did. Winston has had several off-field incidents that bring up possible questions about his character and maturity. Coach Lovie Smith has said he would have no problem making Winston, who has no real on-field questions, the face of the franchise.
There are no off-field questions with Mariota. But there are bigger on-field concerns with him. Mariota spent his college career playing in a no-huddle, spread offense.
Can he make the transition to a pro-style system?
That’s what the Bucs have to find out. They got a look at Mariota’s skills at his pro day. By most accounts of people who were there, Mariota had a good, but not great, workout. If he is going to surpass Winston in the eyes of the Bucs, Mariota needs to use this visit and the private workout to show he has what it takes to be a pocket passer. He needs to show he can handle a huddle.
The odds are that Winston still will end up being the choice. But Mariota is getting his shot to change the Bucs’ mind.