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Which positions will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers address with their five picks in the 2008 NFL Draft?
The Bucs could go in a number of different directions, including cornerback, defensive line, running back and wide receiver.
Although they have currently have six on their roster, the Bucs could also invest one of their draft picks in a quarterback.
That might not surprise the people that have accused Bucs head coach Jon Gruden of having an obsession with signal callers.
The fact that Gruden has had nine different players start at least one game at quarterback since he joined the Buccaneers in 2002 might lend some validity to that notion.
Somehow the Bucs have managed to win three division titles and Super Bowl XXXVII under those not-so-ideal circumstances during Gruden's six-year tenure with Tampa Bay.
Injuries have played an integral role in the turnstile at Tampa Bay's quarterback position, which is why Gruden and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen have stockpiled veteran signal callers.
The Bucs currently have six quarterbacks on their offseason roster, including Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms and Jake Plummer.
So why would the Bucs draft a quarterback this year?
Several reasons, actually.
Garcia is 38 and in the final year of his contract. Griese is 33. Simms' future is in doubt due to the lingering effects of a spleen injury he suffered in 2006 and he is staying away from offseason workouts, which is not endearing him to the team. Although impressive at times last year, McCown has not yet shown enough to be anointed the quarterback of the future. Gradkowski has shown little progress and could be on his way out of Tampa. And Plummer apparently is more interested in playing handball than football at this point.
Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen recently signed three-year contract extensions through the year 2011 with the Bucs this offseason, which might mean the team is more likely to invest a draft pick in a quarterback now more than ever so that he could be groomed behind Garcia, who made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Tampa Bay.
If Tampa Bay used a 2008 draft pick to select a quarterback it wouldn't be the first time the Bucs had used draft selections to acquire signal callers. The Bucs have made a regular habit of using draft picks to bring aboard several veteran quarterbacks in recent years.
Since 2002, the Bucs have used two picks to select quarterbacks in the draft, including Simms, who was a pick of former Bucs general manager Rich McKay's in 2003 and Gradkowski, whom joined Tampa Bay as a sixth-round selection in 2006.
In addition, the Bucs have used several late-round draft picks to acquire veteran signal callers, including Luke McCown (sixth round – 2004), Tim Rattay (sixth round – 2005), Plummer (seventh round – 2008) and Griese (seventh round – 2009).
That's a total of six draft selections that the Bucs have invested in quarterbacks during Gruden's six-year tenure in Tampa Bay.
The good news is five of those six quarterbacks – Griese, Gradkowski, McCown, Plummer and Simms – still are on Tampa Bay's roster. The bad news is Plummer is retired, Gradkowski and Simms likely are on their way out of Tampa Bay and none of these players are starting for the Bucs as that role currently belongs to Garcia.
Gruden earned a reputation for being an offensive genius from his offensive coordinator stint in Philadelphia and head coaching days in Oakland.
But the lack of consistency at the quarterback position has played a role in Tampa Bay's offensive production, or lack thereof, under Gruden.
The Bucs offense has ranked 18th, 29th, 23rd, 22nd, 10th and 24th, respectively, in Gruden's six seasons in Tampa Bay.
That's a far cry from what Gruden was able to accomplish in Oakland and Philadelphia.
Gruden's offense in Philadelphia finished the 1997 season ranked third overall. In Oakland, Gruden's offenses finished ranked in the top 10 in his final three seasons with the Raiders.
In Tampa Bay, Gruden's offense has finished the season ranked in the top 10 just once and the other five seasons saw the Bucs fail to even rank in the top half of the league in total offense.
Not only has Tampa Bay had instability at the quarterback position, Gruden hasn't exactly had the best talent to work with at this particular position, evidenced by the fact that Gruden has yet to work with a former first-round draft pick in Tampa Bay.
The highest draft pick Gruden ever worked with at the quarterback position in Tampa Bay was Shaun King, who was a 1999 second-round selection out of Tulane. However, Gruden inherited King, who struggled after leading the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game as a rookie and is now out of the NFL.
Simms and Griese originally entered the league as third-round picks. Neither player was handpicked by Gruden when they entered the NFL.
McCown and Rob Johnson were fourth-round selections with Cleveland and Jacksonville, respectively. Gradkowski was a sixth-round pick with Tampa Bay and Tim Rattay entered the league as a seventh-round selection with San Francisco.
For the most part, Gruden has worked with castoffs, yet he has had two quarterbacks – Garcia and Brad Johnson — go to the Pro Bowl in Tampa Bay. Granted, both players made the Pro Bowl before they landed in Tampa Bay, but Garcia originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco and Johnson was a ninth-round draft pick with Minnesota.
Gruden had better talent to work with in Oakland, where he coached the likes of Jeff George, who was the first player taken in the 1990 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Indianapolis Colts, and like so many other players joined Gruden in an attempt to resurrect his career.
Oakland worked with several other quarterbacks, including Marques Tuiasosopo (second round), Bobby Hoying (third round), Pat Barnes (fourth round), Rodney Peete (sixth round), Scott Dreisbach (undrafted) and Wade Wilson (undrafted), but Tuiasosopo was the only player the Gruden-led Raiders ever invested a draft pick in.
Not only that, but the Raiders had much more consistency at the quarterback position as Rich Gannon, a former fourth-round draft pick, established himself as a durable, Pro Bowl-caliber signal caller under Gruden from 1999-01.
Although he had Randall Cunningham, a former second-round pick, in 1995, Gruden's offense was at its best in Philadelphia under Hoying (former third-rounder) and Ty Detmer, a former ninth-round draft pick.
Gruden hasn't worked with a first-round draft pick in Tampa Bay, but NFL teams have proven that you don't necessarily need a former first-round selection to win a Super Bowl.
He knows this firsthand from watching Johnson lead Tampa Bay to a 48-21 win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII and Tom Brady, a former sixth-round draft pick, lead New England to three Super Bowl titles and four Super Bowl appearances since 2000.
However, having a former first-round draft pick at quarterback certainly can be beneficial, as Indianapolis and New York can attest. Colts QB Peyton Manning and Giants QB Eli Manning are both former first-round selections.
In fact, the last three Super Bowl winners – New York, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh – were led by former first-round draft picks in the Manning brothers and Ben Roethlisberger, respectively.
The Bucs only have five draft picks this year and need to address other issues, like finding wide receiver Joey Galloway's speedy successor, an eventual replacement for cornerback Ronde Barber, a ball carrier to groom behind aging running backs Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett and Warrick Dunn, and a defensive lineman that can help improve Tampa Bay's pass rush.
But the Bucs could deem the quarterback position a priority, too. It might just be a matter of where Tampa Bay is willing to take one in the 2008 NFL Draft.
The best quarterback in this year's draft, Boston College's Matt Ryan, won't be there when the Bucs select at No. 20 overall in the first round. However, some believe there's a chance Louisville's Brian Brohm could slip to the Bucs there, and if he does Tampa Bay could have a tough time passing him up.
Gruden loved what he saw from Delaware QB Joe Flacco at the Senior Bowl, and his performance at the NFL Combine certainly didn't change the opinion of Tampa Bay's head coach and offensive playcaller.
San Diego QB Josh Johnson really helped his stock at the East-West Shrine Game, and his 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash as well as his 113-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio in San Diego's West Coast offense has Gruden enamored with him.
If the Bucs are going to select either Flacco or Johnson they'll likely have to do it in rounds 1-3 as that is where both players are projected to go.
Teams often times tip their hand in terms of what positions they might be targeting in the draft when they line up private workouts and visits.
Tampa Bay already has private visits/workouts set up with three quarterbacks — Brohm, Johnson and Michigan QB Chad Henne.
That's either one heck of a smokescreen or Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are indeed serious about finding their quarterback of the future in the 2008 NFL Draft.
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