TAMPA — Time will tell if he is more than ready to fill his dad’s shoes. But Vincent Testaverde, Jr., decided a long time ago to at least follow in his father’s footsteps as a quarterback.
He chased his own dream at Jesuit High School, just a few blocks from the Bucs’ training facility. It carried him to Texas Tech, then his dad’s al ma mater at Miami and finally Albany, where he passed for 1,714 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games last season.
That earned Testaverde, Jr., an invitation to a rookie tryout camp with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent, which led to a roster spot for training camp. On Thursday night, the son of the former Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall draft pick will take his place under center in his first NFL game as the Bucs’ quarterback against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
"It means the world, obviously,'' Testaverde, Jr., said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of as a kid. You get to live out your dreams. There’s really nothing better than that so it’s going to be awesome.’’
Testeverde, Jr., was released a few weeks ago. But he knew he might be called back after watching Bucs No. 2 quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, suffer a dislocated left shoulder in Friday’s 13-12 win over the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium.
Pretty soon, the telephone rang and it was his famous father, Vinny, who played 21 seasons for eight NFL teams, including the Cowboys in 2004.
"I had a feeling I might get another call so I was somewhat expecting it already,'' Testaverde Jr. said. “It still feels just as special, because when it finally happened — it’s like wow, okay, here we go again.
“My dad immediately called me., He said, ‘You watching the game?' We just saw Blaine go down. Get ready for the call.’ I kind of had a feeling.''
Even better, because the starters won’t play in the fourth preseason game and coach Bruce Arians doesn’t want to expose Ryan Griffin to injury with Gabbert on the mend, Testaverde, Jr. will likely go into the game in the first quarter with the plan to play him until the final whistle.
“That’s what coach Arians keeps telling me,’’ Testaverde, Jr., said. “He’s been giving me a lot of reps this week. Working on all the plays and working on getting those down and staying in my playbook.’’
It’s paid off because Arians has enough confidence in Testaverde, Jr., try and create opportunities for other players to make their case to stick with the team with roster cuts looming Sunday.
“The one thing about this last game, you always try to keep it as simple as possible so they can play fast,’’ Arians said. “You don’t want them out there thinking. So you hope to create one on one stuff all night and try to be as efficient as possible. Special teams, that’s where most jobs are going to be won in this game. Somebody blocks a kick, maybe knocks a ball loose.’’
Arians said as many as 10 jobs could be open on the 53-man roster and eight spots on the practice squad.
“We talked a lot about it today and I said, ‘Give me 10 things where you can go out and you know where this ball is supposed to go,’’ Arians said. “He kind of knew the whole game plan. He knows all the routes, it’s just going back through his reads and he knows the coverage and where to go with the football.’’
That shouldn’t a problem for Testaverde, Jr., who has always been a quick study. It’s one thing to be invited to training camp as the No. 4 quarterback. It’s quite another to be given an opportunity to run the show in a preseason game.
“I was here a couple weeks ago so I remember a good amount of stuff so it’s good he’s giving me my own kind of menu,’’ Testaverde said. “I’m still going to know the entire game plan but he’s still giving me a list of plays I’m comfortable with and hopefully we can stick to those.’’
The fact that the game is against the Cowboys only adds to the experience. Testaverde, Jr., played a game there with Texas Tech against Baylor when he was a freshman. His dad played one season for the Cowboys in 2004 when Vincent was only 8 years old.
His mom and dad plan to make the trip to Dallas for Thursday’s game. “He always tells me trust my ability, trust what I see and don’t hesitate,’’ Testaverde, Jr., said of his dad. “Just go out there and just play fast and win the game.’’
Admittedly, Testaverde, Jr., said he will have some butterflies before the game begins.
“For me, it’s after that first snap,’’ Testaverde, Jr., said. “Everything leading up to the game I’m a little nervous a little bit. But once I’m in there and that first snap goes, it’s game time.
“I’ve been preparing for this my whole football career. Now it’s happening and I’m going to try and do my best to take advantage of it.’’