New Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett stepped out on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday and liked what he saw in the first of the Buccaneers' 14 OTA (organized team activity) workouts this spring. Hackett, who replaces John Shoop as the team's quarterback mentor, has inherited two young, talented quarterbacks at different stages of their respective careers in starter Brian Griese, who completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in 2004, and backup Chris Simms, a strong-armed lefty who needs work on the fundamentals but has the tools to be successful in the NFL.
"I'm excited," Hackett said. "Any time you come in new and take a look at things for the first time you get a new look. You don't have any preconceived ideas about what happened and what didn't happen. You're excited. Starting at the quarterback position where I think the transformation from Brian Griese from a year ago where he was, to where he is now, is dramatic. I think the attitude that Chris Simms has - it's an attitude of upbeat 'What can I do? How can I do it?' kind of approach - that's where you start."
After resigning under pressure this past January in New York where he served as the Jets' offensive coordinator since 1991, Hackett was coaxed to coach the Bucs' quarterbacks at the request of head coach Jon Gruden, whom Hackett hired to be the University of Pittsburgh's wide receivers coach in 1991 when he coached the Panthers. Like Gruden, Hackett is well-versed in the West Coast offense and has had a hand in developing some great NFL quarterbacks, including San Francisco's Joe Montana, Kansas City's Rich Gannon, and New York's Chad Pennington.
"(Jon and I) started along time ago together - about 15-16 years ago - and of course, have stayed in very close touch," Hackett said. "(We) talked football every chance we get - back and forth. New ideas from him and new ideas from me. We've always said, 'Hey, one of these days let's see if we can't hook up. Let's see if we can't bring our ideas together.' Now this is the right time for that to happen. I couldn't be more delighted to be here and to help in any way he needs. I think we'll work that out as we go. Right now, it's a matter of putting another set of eyes on those quarterbacks."
Hackett, who has 35 years of coaching experience, including 16 in the NFL, is expected to help Gruden collaborate on game plans with offensive coordinator and line coach Bill Muir, whom Hackett worked with in New York in 2001.
"It's a matter of getting a feel for where Jon has gone with this offense over the last 10 years," Hackett said. "When you talk to someone from a distance, you're not really in the middle of the inner workings. I need to get knee deep in all the things I'm somewhat familiar with, but they've got little wrinkles. Before you even begin that, it's just another voice talking about turnovers and talking about taking care of the ball. Certainly it comes from Jon as one voice, now here comes another voice. That's one thing that we've done really tremendously at Kansas City and New York over the years. There are some things that you can do about that, and it's mainly reshaping an attitude that comes from emphasizing it. Now it's the head coach who is emphasizing it, it's the offensive coordinator emphasizing it, and it's me emphasizing it. So there are three of us who are saying that the quarterback-center exchange is really important."
And no one had a more difficult time with the center-quarterback exchange than Simms, who got to see his first NFL action last year as a second-year player. Simms had two notable fumbles on the center-quarterback exchange - versus Seattle and at Arizona - and both of those miscues were costly in close Buccaneers defeats. One of Hackett's chief duties is to improve Simms' fundamentals this offense.
"The quarterback-center exchange is where we start," Hackett said. "We have to start right at the very beginning. One of the things that Jon talked to me about from the very beginning when I got here - and we've been talking about for a year - is what do you with young quarterback from a fundamental standpoint? When you are a head coach and you are calling the plays and making the game plans, you don't have time like you did earlier in your career to spend hours, if you will, on the base fundamentals. The looking at the tapes. The placement of the hands. The bending of the knees. As fundamental as it sounds, it's where you have to begin.
"When you teach a left-hander, you have to be more in tune with how they are going to do things. I was lucky. I've coached a couple of left-handers throughout the years and I think that just getting Chris to understand that he's been so impressive with learning the offense that sometimes you do that to such a tempo that maybe you skip over that snap from center. What we are going to do know - and this was one of the big things about me coming - Jon said to just take him back to Day One. Let's start right through it again. That's what we're doing as of today."
In the short time that Hackett has worked with Simms, he has come away impressed by his mental command of the system. Now it's just a matter of working on mechanics to build a more accurate and efficient quarterback.
"I think he's very smart," Hackett said of Simms. "He's really impressive about the way he's handled the volume of things for a young guy. Secondly, his arm is very strong. The accuracy is one of the things that we will address in terms of footwork and getting your body to position to throw the most ideal pass. Probably number one is the eagerness and the willingness and the anxiousness to be good. It is very exciting what our potential is.
While Simms has the potential to become a starter once he has polished his game, Hackett echoed Gruden's recent statements about drafting another quarterback to develop on the weekend of April 23-24.
"We need to get another guy," Hackett said. "We always feel that you've got to have one or two more guys that we are training and developing. We have Akili Smith in the World League, but we need to (get one in the) draft."
Hackett is relieved to know that the Bucs have a clear-cut starter in Griese, a player he has admired from afar when Griese was with the Denver Broncos back in the late 1990s.
"In those early days in Denver, and particularly when (John) Elway retired and he came in, I really felt that this guy was one of the premier quarterbacks in the league because he fit into the - I hate to use the term West Coast - high completion, multiple shifting, get the ball out of your hand-type guy," Hackett said of Griese. "He's not a strong-armed guy, but he's a guy that can spray the ball all over the field.
"(Griese's mobility) was good. It wasn't outstanding, but it was good. When he left Denver, there was a little uncertainty. What did that mean? As you watch the (11) games he played in last year, sort of having been in hibernation (in 2003) in Miami - because I don't think that's a fair look at it - you see that same guy. He's a 70 percent completion guy. He can get the ball to the open guy. He has tremendous command of the huddle. I think that's the starting point - how you handle the huddle and how you handle the football team. Then, can you make the completion?"
Hackett sees some qualities in Griese that were prevalent in Gannon, whom he coached in Kansas City in 1995-97 before he became a breakthrough player under Gruden with the Oakland Raiders in 1998.
"I'm just excited," Hackett said. "I don't want to say it, but he has some of those Gannon-type motions and movements with the way he delivers the ball. He doesn't have the flat out speed that Rich had, but there is some quickness and niftiness in the pocket that has been impressive. I'm just excited about working with him. Then you've got Simms who is much more of a strong-armed guy. So again, we've got a little compliment there that is pretty good."
Griese has a better grasp of the fundamentals than Simms does, but Hackett's task will be to improve the starting quarterback's grasp of the offense. Griese entered the 2004 season as the number three quarterback and did not benefit from the extra reps, study sessions and attention that befits a starting quarterback. Hackett hopes to help Griese reduce the number of interceptions and untimely turnovers that plagued him down the stretch of the 2004 campaign.
"To me, the true mark of a great quarterback is how he takes care of the football," Hackett said. "Winning and losing in this game is about taking care of the football on offense. If you don't throw interceptions and if you manage the game such that you don't turn it over - with our defense - I think that we're going to have a huge advantage. The one thing we did in New York was we were able to lead the league over the last four years in fewest giveaways.
"That's something we have to preach all the time. I think that's something Brian is very capable of doing because he's accurate as a passer. Guys that are not that accurate and don't have the ability to throw where they want to throw it, sometimes have a problem with that. So now we have to work on the decision-making part. If you are accurate, you've got half the equation. The second (part of the) equation is making good decisions."
Hackett believes that Griese has the arm strength to throw deep and he expects the Bucs to push the ball downfield this year with greater frequency.
"There have been some things going to the corner and going down the middle that have been impressive," Hackett said. "(Joey) Galloway's injury last year didn't allow as much expression and development between the two of them, but Michael Clayton can certainly get down the field. He ran that little hitch against Arizona and scored, but he can get down the field as well. There is a newness between Griese and the receiving corps. That will be fun to work with."
One of Griese's newest weapons is tight end Anthony Becht, who played under Hackett in New York. Although Hackett asked him to be more of a perimeter blocker for Curtis Martin last year than a receiver, Becht is expected to play more of a well-rounded role in Tampa Bay in 2004.
"His versatility and ability to all the different things that we asked of him to do - into the backfield, pulling, trapping, blocking on the line of scrimmage and catching the ball - fits perfectly with what Coach Gruden wants to do," Hackett said of Becht. "I think he's going to be a great compliment, I really do. He's a great addition."
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