With Chris Simms out indefinitely and possibly headed for injured reserve, Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is getting closer to making his first career start on Oct. 8 in New Orleans.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett spent the bye week getting Gradkowski ready to become Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller, an opportunity he earned by completing 45-of-61 (73.8 percent) of his passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns and three interceptions en route to winning the backup quarterback job behind Simms in preseason and training camp.

“Bruce came in here as a no-name and throughout the course of the offseason, training camp and preseason he won the job to be the backup,” said Hackett. “I don’t think there was any question about that. So, in that sense we’re fortunate. There’s no doubt that his performance in training camp and preseason put him in this position.’

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bucs are scaling down their playbook in an effort to help Gradkowski succeed, but the Bucs apparently are also implementing some new wrinkles for the Gradkowski-led offense.

One of the new wrinkles in Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense could feature the shotgun formation, which is something Gruden has been reluctant to use during his play-calling days in the NFL.

“Yeah, we sure have,” Gruden said when asked if Tampa Bay had considered using the shotgun formation. “You might see the shotgun sooner rather than later here. You never know.”

While some fans and pundits have been calling for Gruden to use the shotgun for years, the decision to possibly implement that particular formation appears to be influenced by Gradkowski, who completed 68.2 percent of his passes and threw for 9,225 yards, 85 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, and rushed for 1,018 yards and 14 touchdowns while playing almost exclusively out of a shotgun formation at Toledo.

Despite the fact that he’s a rookie, the Bucs have high expectations for Gradkowski, who is charged with the difficult task of leading the team out of a 0-3 hole. While they aren’t expecting him to carry the weight of Tampa Bay’s poor start on his back, the Bucs are counting on Gradkowski to lead the Bucs offense by making sound decisions with the football.

“Protect the football,” Gruden said. “Forty-six percent of the points we’ve given up on defense have come off turnovers. You turn the ball over seven times, interceptions, in three games, that’s going to get you beat. We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to keep our defense in the game, alive and functioning normally. That’s the big thing: Protect the football. And put your own spin on the position. It doesn’t have to be exactly like you’ve seen it on our cut-ups in the last four or five years. You can put your own spin on it, and we’re hoping that’s an asset for us.”

The Bucs haven’t confirmed that they will indeed use the shotgun formation for the first time under Gruden, but Gradkowski’s track record and history while operating out of that formation definitely have the Bucs considering it.

“I think you have to look at everything at this point,” said Hackett. “Bruce was a guy that was almost exclusively in the shotgun at Toledo. You don’t try to stick to what you had planned, you try to do what is best for the new guy.”


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