The Buccaneers could be on the verge of a quarterback controversy.
Former starting quarterback Jeff Garcia said that his injured ankle would not prevent him from playing on Sunday. Garcia spoke to the media and gave his reaction to head coach Jon Gruden's decision to start Brian Griese on Sunday against Atlanta.
"Well, I think any time you're not going to be the guy on the field it is not an easy thing to take in. I'm a competitive guy and I just want to help this team win," Garcia said. "If that means that I need to focus on getting myself physically right and making sure everything is together. Then that is what I need to do. That is what Coach Gruden wants me to do. That is what I am going to focus on and I am going to support my teammates, support Brian [Griese}, and just be there and be ready to go. I can't fight that right now. Right now having only played one game, I would've liked to have been given the opportunity to battle through whatever I'm going through. But coach made that decision early in the week, so I have to live with it."
Garcia missed the majority of training camp and three of four preseason games with a calf strain. He came back from that injury in time to play in the season opener against New Orleans. Garcia did not look as sharp as he was for most of last season. Against the Saints, the 38-year-old veteran quarterback threw 41 passes completing 24 of them for 221 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"We're going to start Brian Griese in the game," announced Gruden on Wednesday. "I've talked to Jeff, I've talked to Brian. It's just my opinion, and we've talked about it a lot with our coaches, [that] Jeff right now is not himself. We're going to give him a week off and try to get him ready to go. Brian Griese's a guy that's had a good training camp. We're going to give Brian the ball and we'll rally around him. Hopefully Jeff can get back ready to roll soon."
After a Pro Bowl season in 2007 where Garcia led the Buccaneers to the NFC South division championship, Garcia had a turbulent offseason. He spoke out publically about being unhappy with his contract and not receiving a contract extension. Garcia then was a bystander as the Bucs were rumored to be close to acquiring future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Brett Favre, and Gruden acknowledged speaking to Favre about the situation. Garcia indicated that there were offseason distractions, and that if he could go back he may have handled some things differently to eliminate the distractions.
Garcia also recognized that he has had several injuries that have added up. He disclosed that he had a back injury prior to training camp that he rehabbed and was recovered from when training camp started. Then in training camp came his calf strain, followed by an injury to his right pinkie, and presently a sprained ankle. Garcia was asked if his removal from the lineup is an accumulation of the negative factors and injuries leading up to the season.
"Well, I've tried to do my best to put all that (contract squabble, Brett Favre speculation, and injury distractions) behind me. I can't continue to focus on things that aren't positive for this team," said Garcia. "Those things aren't positive. If I dwell on that then that takes away from whom I need to be for this team. I've really tried to redirect my energies into doing good things. I understand in the game on Sunday that there were a couple of plays that I left out on the field. I'm hard enough on myself to know they could've been difference makers in the game, and I know that I can turn that around and I can learn from whatever I didn't do. I think there have just been some things that have unfortunately piled up injury wise that I don't like to bring to anyone's attention because I always feel like I can fight through it. That I can always get through those things and not have them be a factor. Well [Gruden] feels like there are some things that are factors that are taking away from what I bring to the table, so right now it is his decision."
The Buccaneers had one last chance to win their season opener while down 24-20 in the fourth quarter at New Orleans. Garcia threw an interception on fourth-and-6 in Saints territory in the final minute of the game. Tampa Bay had open receivers in Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant, but Garcia threw to a double covered Ike Hilliard. New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita picked off the pass to seal the victory for the Saints.
At some point late in the game, Garcia rolled his ankle, and on Monday Gruden announced that Garcia was questionable for the home opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Garcia has been rehabbing this week and missed practice on Wednesday. Griese took the first-team reps and was announced as the starter by Gruden after practice.
"The ankle, I'm going to go out and run around today," said Garcia. "I feel like it is heeling up fast. It was one of those things where I just rolled my ankle unfortunately. It was stiff on Monday. It got better as the week has progressed. It is at a point now where I feel like if I was the starter I would've been able to practice yesterday and today, but that is not the situation. I've played through a lot worse before and that is not anything new. Everybody in this locker room is going to play through some nicks, some pain, and some sort of injury. That is just the way that this game is, and I don't expect anything less. I feel like there are some things that I can definitely play through.
"I feel like I'm emotionally stable. I'm not a basket case. I'm not somebody who is going to take away from what this team's focus is. My teammates wouldn't show the support for me that they have shown if they didn't believe in me. They selected me as a team captain. They have put me to the forefront because they feel like I can lead this team in a positive way. I don't know if [Gruden] disbelieves that because of things that have stockpiled it has seemed, or things that I have allowed to stockpile have taken away from the edge that I normally have on the field. If that is what believes and that is how he feels, then I need to do my best to get that back and prove to him that it is there."
Garcia said that he needed practice reps to get out of the rut that he is in right now. He mentioned that he would work with teammates off to the side to improve and prepare himself to re-enter the lineup while Griese takes the majority of reps in practice. Garcia did not know whether he would return to the starting quarterback slot after this game, or if Griese would remain the starter for weeks to come.
"I'm really one of those guys that needs practice," said Garcia. "I definitely need reps out on the field. Unfortunately because of the things that have taken place, I played in one preseason game. That I have said that wasn't so much the big deal, but it was the missing out of practice. Getting into the flow with my teammates, and going into the New Orleans game I probably had two good solid weeks of practice instead of six solid weeks of practice. That probably made a difference. I'm going to keep battling away to make sure that I do what I need to do to better myself out on the practice field so that does carry over into being more solid on game days."
After the stressful offseason there has been speculation that the relationship between Gruden and Garcia has been strained. After Garcia's removal from the starting lineup, Garcia and Gruden were rumored to have a broken relationship. ProFootballTalk.com reported that the Buccaneers were shopping Garcia around to other teams, and the relationship with Gruden was so bad that Tampa Bay may cut the veteran quarterback.
"Our relationship is not fractured," Garcia said of Gruden. "We've had some good talks and some good meetings, and as much as that is difficult to take as far as not being the starter this weekend, we are going to work through this together and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to better myself."
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