The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began their official offseason program at One Buccaneer Place Monday.

With the exception of the three-day rookie mini-camp (early May) and the team’s three-day mandatory mini-camp (June 19-21), the 14-week program is voluntary.

However, the turnout has been encouraging thus far, and it can be quite useful to the players, especially for newcomers like quarterback Jeff Garcia, who addressed the media on Tuesday.

“Everything has been great,” Garcia said regarding Tampa Bay’s offseason program. “There’s just a lot of guys here working out, which is great to see, especially early in the offseason. There’s just a group effort to try and better ourselves and be the best players we can be next year.”

Garcia has always been intrigued by the possibility of playing for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. After three offseasons of negotiations that didn’t prove fruitful enough to land Garcia in Tampa Bay, the 2007 offseason turned out to be a different story. Earlier this month, the ninth-year veteran signal caller inked a two-year contract with the Bucs.

Monday was Garcia’s first opportunity to actually work with Gruden, and he’s the first to acknowledge that he has a lot to learn from head coach/offensive coordinator.

“I’m excited about it just because of the offensive mind Coach Gruden has,” said Garcia. “He presents what he expects out of his quarterbacks in terms of their knowledge of the game and how to run this system. I’m just here to try to learn as much as possible and be the best that I can be. I think Coach Gruden can help me be that guy.”

Garcia plans to participate in most of Tampa Bay’s voluntary workouts this offseason. However, he does have one obligation – his wedding — that will take him away from One Buccaneer Place in April. As for the honeymoon, it might have to wait.

“Coach Gruden is not going to let me take a honeymoon,” Garcia said jokingly. “He asked me if he could come along. He said he’s going to bring the playbook the wedding, but I’m not sure what that means.”

What might help accelerate the learning curve for Garcia is his familiarity with the West Coast offense, which is similar to the system Gruden is running in Tampa Bay.

In fact, Garcia has spent all but one of his seasons in the NFL in a West Coast style of offense. Garcia hopes to have mastered Gruden’s complicated and wordy offense by the time training camp rolls around in July.

“I think Coach Gruden has taken the West Coast offense and put his own spin on it,” said Garcia. “There are some differences in terminology, but there’s also some similarities. There will be some things that are new that I must adapt to. I don’t really see that as a problem. It’s about repetition. Those things will happen quickly for me. It will take some time, which is why I’m here right now during the offseason. I’m trying to learn and adapt, and get familiar so that when mini-camps and training camps roll around there isn’t anything that surprises me. I want to be ready to step out on the field and handle my business.”

Of course, Garcia’s journey to Tampa Bay hasn’t been the easiest one. After spending five seasons (1999-03) with the San Francisco 49ers, Garcia is now with his fourth team in as many years.

Although he’s excited to be a Buccaneer, Garcia still is unhappy by the way things ended for him, particularly in Philadelphia, where he completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,309 yards and threw 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of injured QB Donovan McNabb.

Garcia, 37, was able to move on fairly quickly from his one-year stints with Cleveland and Detroit, but Philadelphia was a team he took on his back and led to the playoffs, which still makes the Eagles’ decision to not re-sign him a difficult pill to swallow.

“It’s just that things didn’t work out,” Garcia said of his playing time in Cleveland and Detroit. “Or maybe things worked out too well in Philadelphia last year.

“Along with my age, the moving around is getting old. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to go back to Philadelphia, and as far as the opportunities that were out there I really felt like Tampa Bay was best situation for me. I felt that with Coach Gruden and the other people that are here it gives us the best chance to win. It also gives me the opportunity to compete to be the starter or someone that can contribute. Those were factors that made Tampa Bay appealing to me.”

Garcia certainly has his work cut out for him in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers produced a 4-12 record and finished the 2006 season in last place in the NFC South division.

But Garcia embraces the challenge of helping the Bucs get back on track and return to a playoff-caliber team. According to Garcia, he isn’t the only one at One Buccaneer Place that shares that goal and vision.

“There is a sense of urgency out of this team and this organization,” said Garcia. “There’s no room for not having success on the field, and there’s no reason for not having success. There are quality players in this organization that know how to turn it around and get back to those great years.”

Garcia isn’t the only quarterback on hand at Tampa Bay’s offseason program. While Jake Plummer is semi-retired, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown are three of the players that will compete with Garcia for the starting job.

Although Tampa Bay has not named a starting quarterback, some believe Garcia’s experience (92 career starts) gives him the edge over Simms, Gradkowski and McCown, who have combined for 30 regular season starts.

However, Garcia said the starting job has not – and should not be – handed to him or anybody for that matter.

“I see our relationship as great,” Garcia said when asked about his relationship with Simms. “I’m not a frictional type person. I’m not somebody that’s going to come in and create controversy or dissention amongst anybody. I’m here to help Chris, Bruce and Luke as much as possible. I also hope they can help me out. I think we’re all trying to grow and better ourselves and the position.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to just hand me the job. I’m not asking for it to just be handed to me. I want to compete for it, and no matter who is here or brought in, I expect to compete for it. I only ask to be given the opportunity to compete for it, and Chris and Bruce deserve that opportunity, too.”

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