The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be on the verge of making another change to their starting quarterback position.
With Brian Griese still nursing a sore throwing elbow, Jeff Garcia took the majority of the first-team reps during Wednesday's practice as the Bucs began preparing for their next opponent – the 4-1 Carolina Panthers.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden stopped short of naming Garcia the starter for Sunday's game, but he also suggested Griese would have a difficult time playing vs. the Panthers if he does not practice.
"Brian is still coming back from his arm injury," said Gruden. ‘All I can say is we'll keep you up to speed there. Obviously throwing the ball is important. Jeff took the majority of the reps today. Luke McCown will be ready as well. That's the best way I can put it right now.
"If you can't throw you're going to have a hard time playing. I don't want to make any concrete statements until we get a chance to meet and see how Brian feels and how Jeff feels."
Although he did not practice Wednesday and still is sore, Griese is not giving up on playing vs. the Panthers just yet.
"I had an MRI and thankfully there's nothing structurally wrong like we thought, which is good news," said Griese. "There's just some swelling in there and it's sore at this point, but it's getting better. I couldn't give you a percentage. I'm just going to get as much treatment as I can and then see if I'm able to do what I need to do later in the week.
"In my career I've not practiced at all during the week and played. That's not the way you want to do it, but that has happened before."
Griese replaced Garcia in the starting lineup after Tampa Bay lost to New Orleans in Week 1, 24-20. He has since completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 804 yards and tossed four touchdowns and six interceptions. Griese is also 3-1 as a starter this season.
Garcia, 38, missed most of training camp and preseason with a calf injury, which admittedly caused some rustiness that lingered into the regular season.
"I hate to refer back to health and practice time, but since that first game of the season I've had a lot more practice because of what went on with the calf," said Garcia. "I'm a lot more healthy at this time. I'm not favoring anything. I feel like the speed is back and the explosion and mobility from the pocket is there. Those things are definitely better than what they were going into the first week. I'm not saying that was an excuse because it wasn't, but when you haven't practice a lot and you're coming off an injury you haven't been able to work on your explosion like normal. There were opportunities in the New Orleans game where I had an opportunity to run, but I just wasn't able to make those plays like I have in the past. I feel like that's back for me."
After watching Garcia, who has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 314 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions, perform in practice on Wednesday, Gruden concurred with Garcia's assessment.
"That's why we made the change," Gruden said when asked about Garcia losing some of his explosiveness due to the calf injury. "I do think he's coming back and I think that's a good sign. If you're Jeff Garcia and you play the way he does — his mobility and creative playmaking are a big part of his style. That's his game.
"I think he did well today. We had a modified practice today because we had a number of players that weren't able to participate. Others were limited, but I thought he did a good job. I was really encouraged by seeing him back."
While both signal callers are similar in nature, one thing Garcia brings to the table is his mobility, which could help the Bucs improve their overall offensive production.
"It may open up the opportunity for a scramble play or two in case he breaks the pocket, but it doesn't change anything we do based on routes," Hilliard said of having Garcia in at quarterback. "We don't run them any shorter or any deeper or do anything different in that sense. We're going to stay disciplined in our spacing and our route trees and that stuff. Just because there will be a different guy pulling the trigger it's really not going to matter."
Garcia signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent in 2007. He was a Pro Bowl alternate, but injuries and some off-the-field distractions like a gripe with his contract and the Bucs' flirtation with acquiring Brett Favre have hindered his efforts.
Should he start for the Buccaneers on Sunday, Garcia is hoping he earns a spot in the starting lineup once again.
"For me it's an exciting time," said Garcia. "I just want to get back in and be the guy I was for this team last year and player I feel I'm capable of being. If I'm given that opportunity, hopefully I can run with it and make the most out of it."
The Bucs players don't appear to have a preference in terms of which quarterback starts. They have both won games for Tampa Bay before and the team believes either one can do it again.
"They are both proven winners," Bucs tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "They've both done a great job when they've been in there. What more can you really ask for as an offensive lineman?"
Added Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard: "What's good about our situation is that we have two veteran guys, so I don't think it changes anything at all. We're going to have our game plan. We're going to have all of our stuff. The only thing that may change is the cadence, which is something we can adjust to."
One of the things Garcia will have to do is lead the Bucs to victory and the offense to the end zone. Tampa Bay's offense ranks 7th overall, but has scored just eight touchdowns through five games, including one TD vs. Denver's 30th-ranked defense last week.
Things won't get any easier for the Bucs offense as they will face the Carolina Panthers' fourth-ranked defense on Sunday.
"I think just overall from an offensive standpoint we have to produce more overall," said Garcia. "That falls upon all of our shoulders. Quarterback is obviously a focal point as far as trying to get us into good positions or executing the plays that are called. I know that we have not been as productive as we would like to be. We're fortunate to have a great defense. That definitely helps us out, but we need to hold up our end of the bargain. That won't be an easy task against a very good Carolina defense and football team."