It may have happened sooner than the Buccaneers would have liked, but the Bruce Gradkowski era officially started in Tampa Bay Monday when head coach Jon Gruden named the rookie signal caller the team’s starting quarterback.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after Simms suffered a ruptured spleen that required emergency surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Sunday evening.

Tampa Bay used one of its two sixth-round draft picks on Gradkowski in April. The former Toledo superstar had an impressive preseason, completing 45-of-61 passes (73.8 percent) of his passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns and three interceptions in four exhibition games.

Although he’s a rookie, Gradkowski beat out veteran QB Tim Rattay for the backup job behind Simms in the first two weeks of the season. The Bucs will move Rattay into the No. 2 quarterback role behind Gradkowski while they look to acquire a free agent quarterback via free agency or a trade.

“Bruce Gradkowski becomes our starter,” Gruden said Monday. “Tim Rattay will become the backup, and Luke McCown, who is on the PUP (physically unable to perform list) right now, will be pressed into service when he’s able to return. We’ll be looking for a third quarterback and we’ll have some guys in here this week.”

There aren’t a lot of free agent quarterbacks for the Bucs to choose from right now. However, the Bucs have already expressed interest in quarterbacks Todd Bouman, Shaun King and Stephan Lefors. In fact, Bouman and Lefors were in for workouts during the first week of the regular season.

Regardless of which quarterback they sign or trade for, the Bucs still plan on having McCown, who is recovering from a partially torn ACL he suffered in June, back after their sixth game of the season. If McCown is healthy enough to play, the Bucs could have him back as early as their Oct. 29 contest against the New York Giants.

The Bucs found themselves in a similar situation last year when starting QB Brian Griese suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6 against Miami, which was the game before Tampa Bay entered its bye week. The unfortunate injury to Griese gave Simms the opportunity to become the Bucs’ starting quarterback. Ironically, the 0-3 Bucs are heading into this year’s bye week with a potentially season-ending injury to Simms and a new starting signal caller in Gradkowski.

“It’s tough to lose your starting quarterback,” said Gruden. “It’s tough to stand up here 0-3 and not feel bad. I feel bad, but at the same time we’re going to keep working and our football team deserves a lot of credit for showing the resolve they did yesterday.

“This is the second year in a row that we’ve lost our starting quarterback at the start of the bye week. I’ve never heard of that, never heard of that in the history of football. You don’t like to do that. You don’t like to do that at this point in the season. But Shaun King and anybody else that’s available will be looked at carefully.”

In the meantime, Gruden said the Bucs, who are off to a 0-3 start for the second time in three seasons, must rally around Gradkowski if they are to turn their season around. In addition to getting a significant amount of work in during preseason, Gruden said Gradkowski will take advantage of the bye week by getting the necessary work in to rally his teammates around him and get ready to make the first regular season start of his career on Oct. 8 in New Orleans.

“It will help Bruce,” Gruden said of the bye week. “I think it will help him get a lot of the jitters out of his system. His role has changed dramatically over the last 24 hours. We’ve all got to rally around him, and I know we will.

“I thought he did some very good things in preseason. He’s going to get a lot of work this week. We’ve got a great schedule ahead of ourselves – 13 games to go. This is going to be fine challenge indeed. I do believe Bruce is a fine quarterback and he’ll rise to the challenge.”

With Gradkowski making his first start, Gruden also said he would adjust his version of the West Coast offense accordingly.

“It will change,” said Gruden. “A quarterback change means change for your offense. Unfortunately, this will be the sixth quarterback starting for us in just over four years. Nothing is ever the same when you change quarterbacks.”

As for Gradkowski, he has mixed feelings about receiving the opportunity to be Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback due to the way in which it came about. While he wishes Simms a full and quick recovery, Gradkowski plans to make the most of his opportunity to lead the Bucs offense.

“It’s a tough situation because you never want to be named the starter in this situation,” said Gradkowski. “But things happen. My prayers are with Chris. He’s definitely one that’s going to help me out. I just have to take the opportunity and go with it.”

Although Chris Simms’ season appears to be coming to an end, Bucs tight end/long snapper Dave Moore is getting closer to returning to the football field.

Moore suffered a fractured rib and punctured right lung during Tampa Bay’s 27-0 loss to Baltimore in Week 1. Like Simms, Moore was hospitalized with his injuries and didn’t learn how severe his injuries were until after the game had concluded.

“I fractured a rib and punctured my right lung,” said Moore. “I had no idea. They took the X-ray and said, ‘I don’t see it.’ I said, ‘Good, I’m good to go back in then.” And they said, ‘No, I don’t see you right lung.’ I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ I thought they were talking about my rib. I had no idea what they were even looking for.

“I thought I had the wind knocked out of me. It took me a while to get my breathing, and once I did it was real shallow. I came to the sideline and Coach Bisaccia asked me if I was okay, I said I was. If I hadn’t actually spit up blood I might not have realized something was wrong inside, and I would have gone right back in and played.”

Moore said he hopes to return to action in time for Tampa Bay’s next game, which is on Oct. 8 in New Orleans.

Bucs rookie right guard Davin Joseph is attempting to work his way back from a serious knee injury he sustained in the days leading up to Tampa Bay’s regular season opener vs. Baltimore

Joseph, who would not disclose what type of knee injury he sustained, said his goal of returning to action after the bye week may or may not come to fruition.

“It’s been tough watching and not being able to play,” said Joseph. “I have just kept a real positive outlook on everything because it could have been worse. I’m just trying to get back as soon as possible and hopefully making an impact.”

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