With news that Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first three games of 2018, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has an interesting decision to make for training camp and especially in preseason games: How does he split reps between Winston and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is likely to step in as Tampa Bay's starter for its first three games?
Winston will not be with the team at all during the three weeks he is suspended, so the Bucs can't ignore him and extend the length of time he has gone without real practice when he returns the final week of September. But he also must get Fitzpatrick the work he needs with the No. 1 offense to be in best position to help the Bucs get wins in those three games.
The best precedent for how an NFL team handles this in recent seasons is the Patriots in 2016, when Tom Brady knew he had a four-game suspension to open the season. There are many things that are different between the two, as Brady is obviously more accomplished and ready than Winston to step in later in the season, and Fitzpatrick is much more experienced than Jimmy Garoppolo was when he stepped in as New England's starter.
Here's how Bill Belichick handled the two quarterbacks in four preseason games, again just pointing out one answer and not necessarily how Koetter will handle Winston and Fitzpatrick in two months.
Preseason opener: Brady doesn't play at all, and Garoppolo plays the entire first half, getting extended work and familiarity with the first-team offense. Jacoby Brissett, the team's No. 3 quarterback, goes the rest of the way.
Second preseason game: Brady again doesn't play at all. Garoppolo plays the entire first half and the first series of the third quarter.
Third preseason game: This is when NFL starters typically play the most. Garoppolo starts and plays the first three drives, then gives way to Brady, who plays almost all the rest of the first half. Garoppolo returns for a two-minute opportunity at the end of the half, then plays the first two drives of the third quarter.
Preseason finale: This is when most NFL starters get the week off to rest and avoid any potential injury before the season opener. Garoppolo, as the Week 1 starter, does not play at all, but Brady plays the entire first half, knowing he won't see even the practice field for the next four weeks. Playing against mostly reserves, he throws an interception on his first drive and goes 16-for-26 for 166 yards with a touchdown before giving way to Brissett for the second half.
So the full preseason breakdown has Brady throwing 35 passes, Garoppolo 54 and Brissett 56, getting all three ready for the season without exposing any to too much injury risk. The Patriots would go 3-1 without Brady on the way to going 14-2 on the season and rallying to beat the Falcons and win the Super Bowl.