TAMPA, Fla. -- Fresh off the practice field on his second day of training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Baker Mayfield chuckled when he reached the Bucs' makeshift outdoor podium and coach Todd Bowles shouted from 30 feet away, "Baker, are you the starter?"
"I love it," Mayfield said with a smile as he tilted the microphone closer in his direction. He has clearly made himself at home, whether it be warming up alongside towering defensive linemen such as Vita Vea or detailing the chronicles of his Sasquatch-hunting bachelor party at Mike Evans' charity event, or even having a brief but testy moment with a reporter last month.
He doesn't even wait for the questions to begin -- you can tell he has done this a lot already -- instead proceeding to reflect on the day's work. He acknowledges there is rust after a six-week summer hiatus but is pleased with the team's recall and execution of offensive coordinator Dave Canales' new offense.
"Just work each day. One day at a time right now," he said.
The Bucs are Mayfield's third team since the Cleveland Browns traded him away for a conditional draft pick one year ago. They're now learning to navigate life without seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. Naturally, it's led pundits to assume Mayfield's done and so are the Buccaneers, although the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick isn't giving either much thought.
"I've been off social [media] for almost two years now," said Mayfield, who signed a one-year deal with the Bucs this offseason worth up to $8.5 million. "I'm wired different. I don't need anybody on the outside to tell me what I can and can't do. I know what I'm capable of. Yeah, I got hurt in Cleveland -- that's why my run ended there. And then last year, it was what it was in Carolina. But everything happens for a reason, so I'm here now."
Bowles will wait until the preseason to name a starter. He is rotating Mayfield and Kyle Trask, the Bucs' second-round draft pick out of Florida who sat behind Brady the past two years. By all accounts this spring, Mayfield looked to be the leader in the clubhouse, but Trask has looked much improved in his decisiveness and delivery and is giving Mayfield a stronger push.
"Competition-wise, we're trying to make the QB room as good as possible," said Mayfield, whose three-team odyssey last year took him from four-year starter in Cleveland, to starter and backup with the Carolina Panthers, to digesting a playbook in a mere 48 hours to start for the Los Angeles Rams, virtually playing every role in the quarterback room.
In the one he got to be the backup-turned-hero, the Rams' 17-16 come-from-behind victory over the Raiders last year, Mayfield was able to connect with Van Jefferson with 10 seconds to go for a touchdown. But in Tampa on Thursday, during a two-minute drill at the very end of practice, he overthrew wide receiver Ryan Miller in the corner of the end zone for no points. His challenger, Trask, came close but couldn't punch it in either. Trask was also picked off by rookie linebacker SirVocea Dennis, while Mayfield was picked off in red zone by Nolan Turner.
Both had strong moments too. For Mayfield, it was a connection to a leaping Rakim Jarrett along the sideline against Keenan Isaac that got everybody fired up, along with a fade to Mike Evans. For Trask, a back-breaking throw to tight end Cade Otton may have been his best play of the day, and he also found Miller in the end zone.
"I've always said, 'The franchise will go as the QB room does' -- how they jell, how they get everybody, how they communicate, get everybody on the same page, how they lead," Mayfield said. "So right now, I'm going to approach each day the same, no matter what position I'm in -- I'm going to try to get everybody better, I'm still gonna be me, I'm still going to work my tail off to obviously start, that's the goal, but to get everybody else better around me, to raise that standard as well. Being in different places and different experiences always helps you -- if you don't take lessons from that and learn from it, you're doing it wrong."
Trask, who bided his time as a backup at both Manvel High School in Texas and at Florida, said he's less concerned about the competition itself and more about his own incremental improvement.
"I think the quarterback room, as a whole, has been doing a great job of just spinning ideas off each other," said Trask, who, upon the suggestion of quarterback John Wolford, the third member of their group, started working with quarterback coach Tom Gormerly this offseason.
"As cliché as it sounds, we're not really competing against each other," Trask said. "Obviously, on the outside, there's its own perspective, but as cliché as it sounds, you just want to compete with yourself and make sure you're progressing every single day. Everyone is going to make different mistakes, so we all can get better at different things. The key to a good competition is everyone is just trying to better themselves every single day -- that's been my main focus."
Trask said he has worked on staying calmer in the pocket, and not being so "agitated." He's trying to stand taller -- he said, "I wasn't playing like I was 6-5" -- so he can use his height to his advantage, and he has worked to become more efficient. And then, of course, going from so few reps to so many and getting accustomed to the starters.
"I'll be honest, I was a little rusty throwing to [Evans and Chris Godwin] here in the spring when we first got started -- because I had no idea what the timing was with them," Trask said. "But now that we're getting that down, they're really fun to throw to."
"He is a great guy," Mayfield said of Trask. "To me, competition always brings the best out in anybody. You want to have somebody pushing you to be better. You want to have somebody who is going to challenge you and bring a different aspect to it. John does that as well. He brings the aspect of knowing that offense that we are installing down to a science almost."
As for the team as a whole, and the expectations from the outside or lack thereof, Trask believes they still have the right leadership in place.
"There's still a ton of veterans in this building," Trask said. "For us, it's a new season -- we can't think back on the past too much, it's gone now. Whoever is in this building is who we got on Sundays. ... We've got a ton of veterans, a ton of energy. We're ready to go, we're going to have a great team this year and we'll be ready to strap up versus anybody." Mayfield added, "We're going to write our own story. You can't carry on anything from the past years. You might internalize and think about it, but nothing translates to the next year."