Quarterback Jeff Garcia sliced and diced the New Orleans Saints defense to the tune of 243 yards passing on 10-of-16 pass attempts and two touchdowns and made it look easy in a 31-14 victory on Sunday. That’s the kind of performance that head coach Jon Gruden envisioned when the Bucs signed Garcia to a two-year contract in March.
Gruden was quick to turn the reigns of his offense over to the nine-year veteran quarterback, naming Garcia his starter during organized team activities. Garcia has been the man running the show since training camp and has become a spark for a Bucs offense that needed a shot of energy after last season’s struggles.
Garcia’s veteran leadership and his experience in the West Coast offense have put some life into an offense that ranked 29th overall in the NFL and 26th in passing in 2006. His mobility has helped to keep plays alive, and against the Saints, Garcia displayed just what he can do with the talent in this offense.
Garcia and wide receiver Joey Galloway hooked up for two touchdowns as the speedy receiver finished the game with four receptions for 135 yards and two scores. Gruden has been able to open up the playbook a little bit more with Garcia under center and was impressed with what he saw from his starting quarterback.
“He allows you to do a lot more and he’s a much better quarterback – no disrespect to anyone else we’ve had here – than we’ve played with and he’s just a better player,” Gruden said. “He’s more athletic, more instinctive, he’s quicker. He plays fast and he’s got tremendous experience. He allows you to do a lot of things and we’ve just got to find out what exactly he does best, what he feels more comfortable in doing and hopefully we can do that in the next couple of games.”
Gruden and Garcia are still learning about how each other react to situations throughout a game, but the veteran quarterback is gaining more trust from his head coach. Gruden is listening to what the former Pro Bowl quarterback has to say about certain plays and what he’s seeing on the field.
“You pretty much know what he does; you just have to have a few games with a quarterback to get a feel of how it is on Sunday,” Gruden said. “He’s got a lot of input obviously with me here and I think he’s earned that being in the league for as long as he’s been. It’s hard to describe, but until you go throw a game or two or three or four, it’s hard to truly explain where you want to go.”
After spending three years in San Francisco with the 49ers, Garcia has bounced around the league and is playing with his fourth team in the last four years. He hasn’t been able to find a place where he was the undisputed starting quarterback after his stint with the 49ers even though he knew what he could do with the ball in his hands.
His performance in the final six games with the Philadelphia Eagles last season showed that he still had what it took to be successful in the NFL and Gruden wasted no time in bringing him to Tampa Bay.
Despite winning the Super Bowl with quarterback Brad Johnson, Gruden has struggled to find a consistent signal caller that can run his offense successfully. With Garcia’s success in the West Coast offense, it was a no-brainer for Gruden when the quarterback hit the free agent market.
As evidenced in his performance against the Saints, and even in the 20-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Garcia is the right man to run Gruden’s offense. Gruden’s communication with the fiery quarterback is still evolving, but Garcia isn’t afraid to stand up to his head coach when he believes that another play, not the one that Gruden called, will work better. Even though the conversations can get animated at times, both the coach and his quarterback are fighting the same battle of trying to win games.
“You get a chance to preview the next series a little bit, what plays you are thinking about calling,” Gruden said. “Maybe on a timeout or at the end of a quarter you get a chance to talk about a play. Do you like this, do you like that. He’s got some opinions of his own, so it’s just an area that we just need to continue to grow. Some teams have had the same quarterback for the last five or six years, seven years, ten years or whatever it is. We have had our guy for two weeks so we’ve got to continue to communicate and work through some situations.”
Garcia has taken control of the offense and the huddle from the first snap that he took under center. He holds himself and everyone else on the offense accountable for doing their job and remaining consistent in moving the offense down the field. Garcia’s accuracy has never been a question as the three-time Pro Bowler has completed 61 percent of his passes during his career.
Garcia’s fiery personality is something that Gruden felt his offense was missing and it goes side-by-side with the animated sixth-year coach.
“He’s a barbed-wire kind of guy. He’s not the biggest, most menacing kind of guy, but he has a bite to him,” Gruden said. “He’s not afraid to say what he thinks; he’s a great competitor and a charismatic kind of guy. He’s demanding of himself and also demanding of the players around him and he wants to win. I think it’s a genuine, sincere, competitive edge that he brings to our football team and we need that here.”
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