Bucs rookie quarterback Nick Fitzgerald never got the accolades or national notoriety of former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow.
There are no national championship trophies in the case at Mississippi State, no statue of Fitzgerald outside of his home team’s stadium, no “Promise” speech embossed on a plaque or a Denver Broncos team spending a first-round draft pick on this kid from Richmond Hill, Georgia.
But what Fitzgerald does have that Tebow didn’t when entering the NFL, is a willingness to play any position on the field, including starring on special teams. Oh, and a little record the SEC record for most rushing yards by a quarterback, previously held by the aforementioned Tebow.
“Absolutely, going through the whole process since I left college, everybody always said you can play multiple positions and I’m completely fine with that,” Fitzgerald said. “I would love to get on special teams, have a chance to do that, maybe go run some routes, do something. I’m always open to do whatever I can to make the team first and then obviously help the team all in one, so whatever they ask I’m willing to do.”
Going from a spread offense and heavy QB running attack in college, to a Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich pro-style offense has been an adjustment. Fitzgerald finished his college career with 9,559 total yards from scrimmage with 3,504 of those coming via his feet.
“It’s tough. You go from college where everything is spread, zone reads, kind of an air raid to get into a more personnel offense getting under center, so that’s always tough,” Fitzgerald said. “Getting your footwork down and notice kind of how we operate with the huddle, never done that before. I’m enjoying it, I like the grind, I like the challenges, coming out today for practice, hoping I build on what I did yesterday and continue that to tomorrow morning as well.”
While an adjustment, Fitzgerald thinks he is in a great place to learn a pro-style system and thinks quarterback coach Byron Leftwich is a good fit for him personally.
“He’s definitely younger than a lot of the coaches I’ve had,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s someone who played in the league for a very long time, he knows exactly what it takes and he expects a lot from us. He’s really talented as a player and just being around him a short amount of time, he’s a really talented coach too.
“That’s huge, he has insights that coaches that just coach don’t. He knows exactly what it takes to go out there and perform well, he knows what it takes to win, and he knows what it takes to lose, so he’s not exactly a screamer, he’s not really tough on us, but he definitely is holding us to a high standard.”
The Bucs may view Fitzgerald as a Taysom Hill utility-type player that may never throw a pass as a traditional quarterback like the young New Orleans role player, but he can still help on the field. On Friday, Arians spoke about what Fitzgerald could bring to the table for Tampa Bay’s offense.
“Yeah, Nick’s one of those intriguing guys, because as a quarterback he can do a lot of things for you,” Arians said. “And I think back to Joe Webb, some of those guys who were running quarterbacks they found a niche playing special teams, being your third quarterback, maybe playing some other position as a guy to get you out of games. So, that would be his role – if he can win it – and groom him as a quarterback.”
Fitzgerald wasn’t a great passer for the Bulldogs, completing just 511-of-942 passes (54.2 percent) for 6,207 yards with 55 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. As a senior, Fitzgerald completed a career-low 51.6 percent of his throws for 1,767 yards with 16 TDs and nine INTs. His best season as a passer came as a sophomore in Dan Mullen’s offense where he passed for 2,423 yards with 21 TDs and 10 INTs.
Undrafted free agents are extremely long shots to make an NFL roster, but Tampa Bay has seen their fair share excel and prosper, including former wide receiver Adam Humphries and current tight end Cameron Brate, in addition to right tackle Demar Dotson and running back Peyton Barber. For now however, Fitzgerald isn’t looking too far ahead.
“Honestly, first off, just like everybody else, it truly is a blessing to be here,” Fitzgerald said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have this opportunity to come out here. It’s warm, we have a great facility, we got great coaches, I have a lot of family in Florida, so to have the support system here, I think that this is a really good place to be at and a lot of opportunities.”