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Jay Fiedler vs. Tim Rattay
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely will only keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, which will be announced in the first week of September.

With Chris Simms entering training camp as the undisputed starting signal caller, the real competition will take place behind him, where Jay Fiedler, Tim Rattay, Bruce Gradkowski and Jared Allen will battle for two available roster spots.

Although the Bucs haven’t went out of their way to praise him this offseason, Rattay figures to be the leading candidate to win the backup job behind Simms since he’s well-versed in the West Coast offense and has about a nine-month head start on Fiedler, who signed with the team last week.

While the health of his surgically-repaired throwing shoulder will be up in the air until camp begins, Fiedler, 34, possesses a lot of the attributes Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likes in a quarterback.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Fiedler is mobile, and he does have familiarity with Gruden’s system from his playing days in Philadelphia. A Dartmouth graduate, Fiedler also is extremely intelligent and capable of picking up Gruden’s system quickly.

Although he is further ahead than Fiedler from a playbook standpoint, Rattay (6-0, 200) has quite a bit of pressure on him to perform well in training camp and preseason since he carries a $1.2 million base salary into the 2006 season.

The Bucs don’t necessarily need to free up that cap room to sign their draft picks, but it would be hard to justify keeping Rattay around if he fails to earn the No. 2 job behind Simms this year.

Rattay’s roster spot appeared to be in jeopardy before Luke McCown went down with a partially torn ACL that he sustained during a voluntary organized team activity in mid-June. McCown held Rattay off for that job during the 2005 regular season and the team’s playoff game against Washington, and was having a solid offseason until he sustained the season-threatening injury.

The Bucs wouldn’t be opposed to holding onto both Fielder and Rattay and releasing Gradkowski. The team isn’t prepared for Gradkowski (6-1, 222) to see any action in a regular season game this year, but they are high on him and think he could eventually become the starting quarterback in Tampa Bay.

That said, the Bucs could release Gradkowski with the idea of re-signing him to the eight-man practice squad, where he could continue to learn while helping to simulate mobile quarterbacks, including Atlanta QB Michael Vick, in practice.

Several Bucs officials have commented on how Rattay, who displayed suspect arm strength at the team’s mandatory mini-camp last month, isn’t a great practice player but shows up in games. That sentiment will have to come to fruition in preseason for Rattay to beat out Fiedler and Gradkowski this summer.

The Bucs’ easiest decision at this position will be releasing Allen, who performed well in NFL Europe but is viewed as an extra arm in camp. Choosing between Fiedler, Rattay and Gradkowski could be tough, but the really difficult decision will have to be made if McCown does indeed recover from knee surgery in time to return from the physically unable to perform list, which would mean the Bucs would likely have to choose to part ways with another quarterback.

At this point, Rattay has the edge over Fiedler and Gradkowski, but not by much.

Advantage: Tim Rattay

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