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Many media pundits and fans joke about the number of quarterbacks the Buccaneers have on their roster, which to date is seven. Realistically, the Buccaneers only have four quarterbacks that will make it into the regular season.
Jake Plummer is not coming out of retirement so it's pointless to count him as a Buccaneer. Chris Simms is avoiding the team and is seeking a trade or release, one of which he probably will get. Bruce Gradkowski may go to training camp, but barring an injury, or two, he will have a hard time making the team.
Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese are veterans that won't be cut. Luke McCown was far more effective than Gradkowski when filling in for Garcia last year, and McCown's play will be debated.
The fourth quarterback will be fifth-round pick Josh Johnson. He will not be cut due to his draft status, and the Buccaneers would not be able to clear him through waivers to place him on the practice squad. Johnson will be developed over time, and will not be expected to contribute on the field as a quarterback.
When looking at those quarterbacks individually it becomes obvious that the Buccaneers have three quarterbacks that they could win with in 2008. Those signal callers are Garcia, Griese, and McCown. Garcia, 38, and Griese, 33, are nearing their final seasons in the NFL, and its unclear whether Johnson can adapt to the NFL.
McCown has the talent to be a starter in the NFL, and he is in the final year of his contract with the Buccaneers. After the season Tampa Bay will have to decide if they are going to re-sign McCown, who is 1-2 as a Bucs starter. The Buccaneers are always looking ahead, so it is a safe assumption that they have an idea if McCown is the quarterback of the future.
Cover 1 – McCown Is Not The Quarterback Of The Future
The reason McCown is not the Buccaneers quarterback of the future is roughly a few plays in each game. In those plays McCown doesn't just make mistakes, like an incompletion; those plays are turnovers or touchdowns for the opposition.
In the critical matchup with the Saints, McCown started the game well and had the Buccaneers off to a 20-14 lead in the third quarter. The offense was at mid-field and was driving when McCown made a bad decision.
While facing a blitz, he threw an interception to Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie who returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway had beaten McKenzie on a stop-and-go route and was running free downfield. McCown threw the ball to the stop, which McKenzie had bit on and was the only player there. If McCown threw the pass to Galloway he would have scored easily. It was a costly miscommunication between Galloway and McCown.
With five minutes left in the game and the Saints up by one, McCown took a safety that should have sealed the win for New Orleans. A terrible play call led to the Buccaneers getting the ball back, and McCown led a drive for a touchdown to give the Buccaneers the win. However, McCown's miscues spotted the Saints nine of their 23 points.
One week later against the Texans, McCown fumbled a shotgun snap and Houston recovered at the Bucs 36. Four plays later the Texans scored a touchdown to make it a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, and sealed the game for Houston.
Against the 49ers in Week 16, McCown made some catastrophic errors that severely hurt the Buccaneers' chance of winning. McCown fumbled the ball on a sack and the 49ers took over on the 14-yard line, which led to score.
McCown then led a long drive from the Tampa Bay 7-yard line deep into San Francisco territory early in the fourth quarter. McCown then squandered the scoring opportunity by throwing an interception to 49er Nate Clements at the 49ers 15-yard line. Clements returned the interception 62 yards to the Bucs 23-yard line. On the next play, San Francisco's Shaun Hill threw a 23-yard touchdown pass, which was the winning score in the game.
Against Carolina in the final week of the season McCown threw an interception with the Buccaneers down by eight with five minutes left in the game. He also missed a wide-open Michael Pittman for a touchdown and under threw a wide-open Kenneth Darby in the end zone. Five sacks taken by McCown also hurt the Buccaneers cause.
Taking sacks has been an issue for McCown. He was sacked 15 times in those five games. As a team, the Buccaneers took 36 sacks last season and were tied for 18th in the league in that category. He also had three fumbles, two of which were taken by the opposition. Combined, his two fumbles with his three interceptions, McCown accounted for an average of one turnover a game.
In his career, McCown has not produced a good record as a starting quarterback. Combining four games he started as a rookie for Cleveland, McCown is 1-6 as a starter in the NFL. Perhaps his record as a starter and his prospects to be a future starter would be better if had been able to play in the 2006 season.
In the 2006 offseason workouts, McCown suffered a major knee injury that caused him to miss training camp, the preseason, and start the season on the Physically-Unable-To-Perform list. When he came off if the PUP list in November, he was inactive for the remaining games as the third quarterback.
Without the injury, McCown, not Gradkowski, would have gotten the first chance to replace Simms after his season ended. McCown could have used that to time develop, and maybe would have been more ready to lead the team in the future.
Currently the Bucs are ready to compete for the playoffs and the Super Bowl and is not in a position to endure growing pains from the quarterback like they were in 2006. In short, McCown has no learning curve with Tampa Bay any more. If he plays he has to play well.
The Buccaneers have spent three seasons developing him. When McCown has the opportunity to play again he must excel. With Garcia firmly entrenched as the starter it seems that McCown will not get an extended opportunity to prove he is the quarterback of the future before he hits free agency. Thus, at this time it seems as though McCown is not the Buccaneers quarterback of the future.
Cover 2 – McCown Is The Quarterback Of The Future
Undoubtedly, McCown has shown he has room for improvement. He needs to get rid of the ball sooner to avoid sacks, and he needs to cut down on turnovers. While his record as a starter is not good, McCown had the team close and in a position to win against Carolina and San Francisco. He did that playing with mostly backups as the Buccaneers were resting a lot of their starters prior to the playoffs. Many people inside, and outside, the Buccaneers organization believe McCown would have had wins in those games if all of the starters were playing with him.
McCown has also only seen action in 10 games (seven starts) in his career. Many all-time great quarterbacks have struggled early in their careers. What McCown has been able to do in 10 games is comparable to what Brett Favre and Petyon Manning did in their first 10.
Player Completion Percentage TD INT Sacks Yards Fumbles
Notice that Favre and Manning threw a lot more passes than McCown, yet he practically tied Favre in touchdowns. Against Houston McCown set up short touchdown runs for running back Earnest Graham as well.
Keep in mind that McCown had five of his games on a bad Cleveland Browns team and a few games with backups in Tampa Bay. Young quarterbacks struggle, and McCown's numbers aren't great, but look at the mammoth leap of improvement from his rookie year stint in Cleveland to his five games in Tampa last season.
Prior to 2007, his last extended playing time was in 2004 for Cleveland. In his rookie year he completed 48-of-98 (49.0 percent) for 608 yards throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions. McCown did not see any game action during the 2005 and 2006 seasons for Tampa Bay.
That was until last season when McCown started three games and played in two others in place of the injured Garcia. McCown completed 94-of-139 (67.6 percent) of his passes for 1,009 yards and tossed five touchdowns and three interceptions. McCown 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 (9.75). McCown actually had the longest rush of any Buccaneer last year with a 31-yard run against Carolina. On that play, McCown flat out ran away from Panther linebacker Thomas Davis, who also has seen action at safety. In that game, McCown engineered the Bucs longest scoring drive of the season with a 98-yard touchdown drive.
The argument against the Louisiana Tech product does not take into account that the 6-foot-3, 212-pound McCown has tons of natural talent for the quarterback position. He is a rifle-armed passer that is accurate. He also starts fast. McCown was a jaw-dropping 23-of-23 on passes in the first quarter of games in 2007.
His accuracy and big arm were on display early in the New Orleans game where he started 15-of-15. He was nailing short, intermediate, and deep passes. In the fourth quarter, McCown led the team back and threw the winning touchdown pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens with less than a minute to play. That was the biggest win of the 2007 season and all but won the NFC South for the Buccaneers.
Unlike Simms, McCown is a great fit in Jon Gruden's offense. Gruden likes mobile quarterbacks that are accurate. McCown is both of those. Gruden likes quarterbacks who have the arm to beat teams deep, so they can't put eight defenders in the box and take away the run. McCown has the gun for that; in fact he has the strongest arm of any of Tampa Bay's 2008 quarterbacks. Gruden likes his quarterbacks to start fast. McCown's 23-of-23 passing in the first quarter of his three starts in 2007 definitely proves he can do that. Gruden likes quarterbacks that have moxie, that can lead their team from behind. McCown has done that. McCown has the intangibles.
Some quarterbacks have wilted under the pressure that Gruden puts on them. Some of them haven't been able to take his drill sergeant style of yelling at them. Not only can McCown take that, but he has told Pewter Report that he likes it. Some would think that being a devout Christian would make McCown clash with the expletives that Gruden yells, but McCown is not bothered by it. In all, McCown is coachable, that can't necessarily be said about Simms or Gradkowski.
McCown is also a hard worker. After organized team activities this offseason he has been staying late and throwing extra passes to Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, and Alex Smith. Garcia and Gradkowski have not been seen doing that. Even if those additional reps aren't for him, McCown still has been a good teammate and helped those who want more practice.
After a rough rookie season in Cleveland, McCown has voiced to Pewter Report repeatedly that he wants to be a Buccaneer. He holds the Buccaneer organization in high regard and enjoys playing in Tampa Bay. With his physical skill set and the ability to improve, McCown is the Buccaneers future franchise quarterback.
Luke McCown is the starting quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay. The only thing preventing it is if he does not get the opportunity before he hits free agency. It would be a shame for the Buccaneers to have developed a quarterback with starting potential only to see them leave due to a lack of opportunity. However, that seems unlikely. The Buccaneers have the resources to sign McCown and Garcia to extensions, and Tampa Bay has indicated how highly they regard McCown.
The Buccaneers' thoughts of McCown can be found in their actions during the 2008 NFL Draft. If the Buccaneers did not think that McCown could seriously be the quarterback of the future they would have drafted Brian Brohm or Chad Henne when they were available in the first and second round. General manager Bruce Allen is always planning years in advance and he would not go into the future without an idea as to who would man the most important position.
Some might argue that Johnson could be the quarterback of the future. That could be wishful thinking. Johnson is a fifth-round pick that excelled at a small school. Two years ago the Bucs used a sixth-round pick on a quarterback that had eye-popping statistics on a smaller school level, Gradkowski. Right now it looks like Gradkowski hasn't been able to progress to be even a capable backup NFL quarterback. If Johnson develops into a dependable backup over the next two to three seasons that would be outstanding, and a great job done by the scouting and coaching staff.
McCown has already had some success at the NFL level and seems poised for more. All young signal callers make mistakes that take time and experience to rectify. Consider the leap McCown took from his playing time in Cleveland to his playing time in Tampa Bay. Not only is McCown the Buccaneers quarterback of the future, but he also has the physical talent to be a Pro Bowl quarterback if he can eliminate some of the mental mistakes he has, such as holding the ball too long and taking too many needless sacks.
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