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The Bucs rolled the dice at the quarterback position in 2006 by releasing Brian Griese in a salary cap maneuver and handing over the reigns of the offense to Chris Simms.
That turned out to be a mistake after Luke McCown suffered a serious knee injury in June and Simms was lost for the season in Week 3 after rupturing his spleen in a contest vs. Carolina.
As a result of those two injuries, sixth-round rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski entered the starting lineup prematurely.
Although he clearly beat out veteran QB Tim Rattay in training camp and preseason, Gradkowski had his fair share of woes after he was thrown into the fire, completing 54 percent of his passes for 1,661 yards and tossing nine touchdowns and nine interceptions before eventually being pulled in favor or Rattay.
Unfortunately for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, he is no stranger to injuries at the quarterback position. In his five seasons in Tampa Bay, Gruden has only made it through one of them with the same starting signal caller. Brad Johnson accomplished that feat in 2003.
With the Bucs finishing last season 4-12 and the team having produced three losing seasons over the past four years, Gruden wasn’t about to have the quarterback position hinder the offense’s efforts again.
That’s why the Bucs signed Philadelphia Eagles QB Jeff Garcia and traded for Denver Broncos QB Jake Plummer in March.
Those two quarterbacks were arguably the best available signal callers this offseason, and the Bucs snagged both of them.
However, both Garcia and Plummer come with question marks.
Garcia had a great season with the Eagles last season, and he’s been productive in Philadelphia, San Francisco and the CFL. However, he’s 37-years old and didn’t do so well in Cleveland and Detroit.
The good news for the Bucs is Garcia, who is considered a good athlete, mobile thrower and fiery leader, is well versed in the West Coast offense, which is somewhat similar to what Gruden is running in Tampa Bay. That should help speed up the learning curve and give Garcia a legitimate shot at winning the starting job.
Plummer, 32, has yet to make his debut at One Buccaneer Place, and he may never suit up in a Bucs uniform. He has announced his retirement on several occasions, but some believe Plummer is still weighing his options, which might explain why he hasn’t filed his retirement paperwork with the league.
Like Garcia, Plummer has a lot of playing experience in the West Coast offense. Some in the Bucs organization believe Plummer, who compiled a 40-18 regular season record as Denver’s starter, could win the starting job in Tampa Bay if he shows up for training camp.
If Plummer fails to report for training camp, the Bucs could attempt to recover as much as $7 million in bonuses that he received in Denver. But the Bucs are willing to be patient on this front, and they’d much rather have him play than prompt the Bucs to go after his bonus money.
Even if Plummer doesn’t report to training camp on July 26, the Bucs might be willing to wait until 2008 before they go after his bonus money. That’s because the team knows Garcia, who signed a two-year contract, could retire in ’08, which would leave the Bucs with yet another vacancy at the quarterback position. The Bucs also realize Plummer could change his mind and decide to play again after a year off from football.
Simms, who signed a two-year contract with the Bucs back in December, has at times been the forgotten man in the media this offseason, but he’s actually the team’s No. 1 quarterback right now.
Simms took most of the first-team snaps during Tampa Bay’s first three organized team activities (OTAs) last week. This is Simms’ fifth year in Gruden’s system, and the Bucs expect to see significant improvement from the former third-round draft pick.
The Bucs want help their quarterbacks succeed. Gruden and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett have even gone as far as implementing the shotgun formation, something both coaches were opposed to in previous years but implemented this offseason since Simms, Garcia, Gradkowski and McCown each have previous playing experience in the shotgun formation.
If Plummer doesn’t play this year, the third-string quarterback job likely will be between Gradkowski and McCown.
It’s still early, but some sources have suggested that Gradkowski has the edge in this battle because the team has more invested in Gradkowski from a playing time standpoint and feels he fits mold of Gruden’s prototype quarterback more than McCown does.
Tampa Bay’s last signal caller – Bruce Eugune – is playing in NFL Europe. He will be hard pressed to earn a roster spot and likely will serve as an extra arm in training camp.
Despite what Gruden has recently said regarding his interest in possibly using Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick on LSU’s JaMarcus Russell or Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, it is highly unlikely that the Bucs will use the fourth overall pick in the draft on either one of those signal callers.
The Bucs are going out of their way to act interested in both quarterbacks. Gruden even recently went to Notre Dame to work out Quinn. The Bucs are simply doing their due diligence on both quarterbacks while doing their best to throw out some smokescreens for the rest of the league’s teams to chew on between now and April 28. That’s exactly what the Bucs did this in 2005 in regards to quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers.
Pewter Report doesn’t expect Tampa Bay to use any of its 2007 draft picks to select a quarterback.
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