Will the Bruce Gradkowski era start on October 8 when the 0-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to New Orleans to play the 2-0 Saints?
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden may turn to his rookie signal caller, who starred in the preseason, as the replacement for starting quarterback Chris Simms, who had emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen on Sunday night following the Bucs’ 26-24 loss to Carolina.
Simms is expected to miss two months, which could sideline him for the season and force the Buccaneers to place him on injured reserve. Tampa Bay has three quarterbacks on its roster, Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft pick out of Toledo, third-string veteran Tim Rattay and Luke McCown, who must sit out the first six weeks of the season due to his PUP (physically unable to perform) designation. McCown has made significant progress in recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in an OTA (organized team activity) practice in June.
Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen could also attempt to trade for a quarterback. Calling Chicago to see if former Bucs starting quarterback Brian Griese is available would be wise, but given the fact that Bears starter Rex Grossman is injury prone and general manager Jerry Angelo gave Griese a $5 million signing bonus this past spring could prevent that trade from happening.
The Bucs have also expressed interest in Jacksonville backup David Garrard and could target him via a trade. Another possibility is Oakland quarterback Marquis Tuiasosopo, whom Gruden and Allen drafted while with the Raiders.
The Bucs will also scour the free agent market to possibly add a quarterback. They brought in former New Orleans quarterback Todd Bouman and former Carolina quarterback Stefan LeFors after the first week of the season for a tryout, but did not offer a contract to either signal caller.
Former Bucs quarterback Shaun King is also a free agent, as is Jay Fiedler, who was with the Bucs in training camp this past summer, but is still rehabbing his shoulder.
Looking within the organization, Gradkowski appears to be the best answer to replace Simms. He consistently outperformed Rattay in training camp and in the preseason, and earned the right to be Simms’ backup despite his inexperience. Gradkowski completed 45-of-61 passes (73.8 percent) for 511 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked three times and had a quarterback rating of 105.3 while leading the Bucs on five touchdown drives and one field goal drive on 17 offensive possessions in the preseason.
Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds caught up with the rookie quarterback’s father, Bruce Gradkowski, Sr., who spoke about Simms’ unfortunate injury and the anticipation regarding what could be his son’s first NFL start on October 8.
“Bruce is sad with how he’s getting this opportunity – that it was an injury like this to Chris,” Gradkowski, Sr. said, noting that the fact the Bucs were fortunate to have a bye this week. “As a matter of fact, he tried to call Chris to let him know that he was thinking about him. I’m sure he’ll get up there to see him this week in the hospital.
“I just think Bruce is going to be all right. I really do. I think Gruden will really work with him and he’ll make it a nice, positive thing. I know Bruce is real excited. He was real excited to get in there today – not knowing what was wrong with Chris. He thought Chris might have been done for the day. The reports were that he was dehydrated – not knowing that he was bleeding inside.”
If Gruden turns to Gradkowski, who has completed 2-of-6 passes for 20 yards while seeing limited playing time against Baltimore and Carolina, the former Toledo Rocket will bring a different style of quarterback play to Tampa Bay’s offense. In many respects, Gradkowski’s accuracy and mobility are superior to Simms’, however he lacks the NFL experience and the big-time arm of the left-handed quarterback.
“Certainly not to put Chris Simms down, but they are two different players in that Bruce can make things happen with his feet,” Gradkowski, Sr. said. “People saw that. If he feels pressure, he bounces out of that pocket and he’ll make something positive happen with his feet. The only thing he’s got to learn – and I know that I’ve told him, other people have told him and his agent has told him – is this is the NFL and you have to [slide] down. You can’t be playing around with linebackers and D-backs. When you make a play, you make a play and get down. But I think that would be a nice plus for the play caller here because [he likes to] roll out [quarterbacks].”
Gradkowski rushed 66 yards on 11 carries (6.0 avg.) in the preseason, showing his escapability whenever he faced pressure. However, the pressure that Gradkowski received from opposing defenses often paled in comparison to the pressure he was receiving from Gruden at training camp. Gruden was especially hard on Gradkowski and pushed him as hard as he could because he sensed that he would have to lean on the rookie quarterback at times during the regular season.
Little did Gruden realize that Simms, his starting quarterback, would likely be sidelined for the rest of the season after Week 3. However, history has shown that Gruden has only had one quarterback go wire-to-wire in Tampa Bay through the course of a season. That was Brad Johnson, who started all 16 games in 2003, although he was benched after the first quarter of the season finale loss (33-13) at Tennessee. Yet Gruden suspected that he would need to start Gradkowski at some point in 2006.
“This guy has got some talent,” Gruden told Pewter Report at the conclusion of the preseason. “He’s an accurate passer. We’re going to stay after his ass and help him become a great quarterback. He’s learning quick. He’s got a lot of pride. He wants to learn. He irritates me because he’s always in front of my door when I come in at 5:00 in the morning. He’s looking for answers. He wants to get better. I’m really proud of him. I’ve been hard on him and with good reason. We might need him because this is a long season.”
Gradkowski, Sr. knows that Gruden prepared his son well at training camp despite how hard he was on him.
“I know my kid can take what ever is going to come forward because he already got a good taste of it with Gruden in training camp,” Gradkowski, Sr. said. “Jon Gruden told me one time up at training camp, ‘I don’t have time to experiment with or develop Bruce the way a normal rookie would be developed. I have to push a lot of stuff on him because of injuries to Luke McCown and the way that the quarterback situation was unfolding.’ I coached Bruce as a young boy and he was always able to handle stuff like that. Just by the way they went through training camp and Gruden was on him, and the way Bruce took all that, I think he was able to go forward and make a positive out of it. I know he’s all keyed up on getting the chance, even though it’s a sad way of being the starting quarterback … if he is the starting quarterback.
“Chris Simms has always been a class kid and it seemed like he and Bruce always got along. I don’t think there was a threat of Bruce competing for his job at training camp. Now as the season was going on, Bruce wasn’t getting many reps and he was always in support of Chris. He’s a team player. When Chris made a couple of big plays, Bruce would come over and high-five him. That’s the way he is.”
Gradkowski, Sr. noted that his son has already done a lot to win over the veteran players with his play in training camp and penchant for making big plays in the preseason.
“I think he earned some of the respect of some of these players like [Joey] Galloway and [Mike] Alstott just by the way he conducted himself in training camp,” Gradkowski, Sr. said. “He’s excited and I’m excited.”
Copyright 2006 PewterReport.com
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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