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The Buccaneers solidified the quarterback position in 2007 with the play of starting signal caller Jeff Garcia. After a dismal 4-12 season in 2006, the Bucs made improving the quarterback position one of their highest priorities. They re-signed Chris Simms, inked Garcia, and traded for Jake Plummer. Another addition to the quarterback corps was a healthy Luke McCown, who was recovering during the 2006 season from a serious knee injury. Bruce Gradkowski was also back with Tampa Bay after starting 11 games for the team in 2006.
Having five quarterbacks on the roster seemed excessive to many media pundits and some fans. However with Plummer retiring and Simms going on injured reserve due to lingering effects of his ruptured spleen, the Bucs were left with the standard three quarterbacks (Garcia, McCown, and Gradkowski). All three of those quarterbacks saw action during 2007.
Quickly last offseason Garcia earned the starting position. He established himself as a leader in the locker room and was chosen as one of the team captains. Garcia turned in an excellent season leading the Buccaneers to the NFC South Division title and earning his fourth Pro Bowl selection.
For the season Garcia completed 209-of-327 (63.9 percent) for 2,440 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. A quarterback rating of 94.6 led Bucs signal callers and was eight points higher than his career average.
Garcia also set two Buccaneer records during the season. He had the lowest interception percentage (1.2) in franchise history, just edging Brad Johnson's 2002 mark of 1.33. Most consecutive passes without an interception was another record that Garcia claimed with 197 straight attempts. The record for consecutive completions is now shared by Garcia and Johnson. At Detroit on Oct. 21, 2007 Garcia completed 18 straight. Johnson's 18 straight came over two games in 2003.
Garcia's ability to scramble in and out of the pocket was a real asset to the team. Not only was Garcia able to pick up yards on the ground, 35 rushes for 116 yards, but he also avoided sacks and bought time for his receivers to get open downfield. The drawback to Garcia's running with the ball was the injuries he incurred while doing it. Garcia missed part of the Seattle game with a concussion and injured his back against the Redskins in late November, which caused him to miss two games.
Taking Garcia's place was McCown. It was his first regular season game action since his rookie season in 2004 with Cleveland. In the five games that McCown played in, he showed a strong arm, accuracy, and impressive athleticism. While McCown was extremely impressive at times he still has room for improvement. He took 15 sacks in his five games and fumbled the ball three times.
Last season McCown started three games and played in two others. He completed 94-of-139 (67.6 percent) of his passes for 1,009 yards and tossed five touchdowns and three interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 91.7 for the season. Aside from his success passing the ball McCown showed off his athleticism running the ball 12 times for 117 yards. Surprisingly McCown had the longest rush of any Buccaneer players during 2007. In Week 17 against Carolina McCown had a 31-yard scamper.
Third-string quarterback Gradkowski saw action in one game last year when he replaced the injured Garcia against Washington. Despite numerous drives starting in Washington territory Gradkowski led one touchdown drive and the Buccaneers had a narrow victory in what should have been a blowout. Gradkowski was 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) for 130 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The opportunity for improvement from his rookie season seemed to escape Gradkowski and his future with the Buccaneers is very much in doubt.
Tampa Bay traded for quarterback Brian Griese on Mar. 3 reuniting the former Buc quarterback with Jon Gruden. Griese is a competent backup that has had success for Gruden and the Buccaneers. In his two seasons with Tampa Bay (2004-05) Griese completed 345-of-510 (67.6 percent) of his passes for 3,768 yards throwing 27 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
With the Chicago Bears (2006-07) Griese had less success. He completed 179-of-294 (60.8 percent) of his passes for 2,023 yards tossing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Griese will have to get reacquainted with Gruden's offense but as an experienced veteran it should be a smooth transition. The 33-year-old Griese will compete with McCown to be the backup quarterback.
Simms is the fifth quarterback on the Buccaneers roster. He is not participating in the team's organized team activities and decided to train on his own. The decision is based on Simms' belief that he does not have a future playing for Tampa Bay. A draft day trade is possible for Simms.
Two areas for improvement for Tampa Bay's signal callers are third down efficiency and taking sacks. The Buccaneers were tied for 18th in the league in sacks taken with 36. Avoiding sacks is a team effort. Quarterbacks have to get the ball out quickly and move to avoid defensive players. Pass receivers have to get open quickly, and blockers need to cover their assignments and pick up blitzes. Tampa Bay is hopeful that new center Jeff Faine and new tight ends Ben Troupe and John Gilmore will help the Buccaneers to improve their pass offense.
On third downs last season the Buccaneers were 82-of-213 (38.5 percent). Tampa Bay ranked 17th in the league there. Coming into his second year in Gruden's offense, Garcia expects the Buccaneers to get much better. Improving on third down efficiency will be vital in the Buccaneers efforts to make the offense more imposing.
For 2008 the Buccaneers quarterbacks seem to be set with Garcia, McCown, and Griese. However, the quarterback situation beyond this season is very much in doubt.
Gradkowski and Simms are unlikely to be on the team when the season kicks off. Griese and Garcia, 38, have only a few more professional seasons in their careers and are not considered long-term answers. McCown has impressed but Tampa Bay wants to see more improvement from him before they anoint him the quarterback of the future.
Assuming Plummer remains retired, only Griese and Gradkowski are signed with the Buccaneers beyond the 2008 season.
Contract extensions for Garcia and McCown are possible, though. In fact, negotiations between Garcia's agent and the Bucs are ongoing.
On the surface Tampa Bay doesn't appear to have a desperate need for another signal caller, but the Bucs still are looking for their quarterback of the future and could decide to select that player as early as the first round in the 2008 NFL Draft or opt not to take one at all.
In addition to Louisville QB Brian Brohm, who likely has a first-round grade, other Bucs quarterback options in the draft include Delaware's Joe Flacco, Michigan's Chad Henne, San Diego's Josh Johnson and San Diego State's Kevin O'Connell.
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