SIMMS ON THE MEND
While he’s still in the hospital recovering from emergency surgery he underwent to remove a ruptured spleen he suffered during Tampa Bay’s 26-24 loss to Carolina, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms appears to be well on his way to a full recovery.

Simms’ family issued the following statement from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa on Tuesday evening:

“Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms was moved to a medical recovery floor [Tuesday] from St. Joseph's Hospital's Intensive Care Unit, where he had been receiving care following surgery Sunday evening for removal of his spleen.

Mr. Simms' condition continues to improve daily and his doctors expect a full recovery soon. He is expected to stay in the hospital for several more days, allowing him needed rest while his recovery continues to be closely monitored.

Mr. Simms and his family want to thank the medical teams of both the Buccaneers and St. Joseph's Hospital for their prompt, professional care, allowing him to now focus on his recovery and rehabilitation.

Mr. Simms and his family also want to thank all the well-wishers, from throughout Tampa Bay and across America, who have expressed their loving support for him with the hope of a speedy and full recovery.

Mr. Simms and his family continue to ask that media respect their privacy during this crucial time in Chris' recovery. No interviews with Mr. Simms or his family are planned at this time.

More media updates will be provided as warranted. Thank you for your continued respect for Mr. Simms and his family's privacy.”

Meanwhile, Simms’ teammates continue to visit him and think about him on a daily basis.

“Chris is doing much better,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “Every time somebody comes back from a visit it sounds better than the person before him. I don’t know how long he is out. There’s a chance he’s out for the season, there’s a chance he’s not.”

GRADKOWSKI MAKES DEBUT AS STARTER
Rookie Bruce Gradkowski took the practice field Wednesday for the first time as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback.

After practice, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he was pleased with how Gradkowski and the rest of the team fared in practice.

“He did a good job, and I thought our team responded to him also,” Gruden said of Gradkowski. “It’s a tough situation and a great challenge. If anybody can do it, he can do it. But we’ve got to help him.”

The former Toledo superstar had an impressive preseason, completing 45-of-61 (73.8 percent) of his passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns and three interceptions in four exhibition games.

Not only was that performance enough to convince the Bucs to keep the sixth-round pick on their active roster, the team also made Gradkowski the No. 2 quarterback behind Chris Simms in Tampa Bay’s first three regular season contests.

While Gradkowski beat out veteran QB Tim Rattay for the backup job and now is being given the opportunity to start in place of Simms, who is recovering from surgery to remove his spleen, the rookie knows he has to prove himself.

“I’ve been getting congratulated, but I’m like, ‘Hey, I haven’t done anything yet.’ I have to step in and know my role and play hard,” said Gradkowski. “I have to try to just do my part on the team.”

While he is a tough competitor, Gradkowski knows he has to lead his team as the starting quarterback. That’s a role he has embraced and put on display Wednesday during practice.

“There’s a different beat,’ said Gradkowski. “ You have to step up your game a level. The guys are looking at you now. All of the eyes are confident, so I have to be confident, make the right decisions and just be a good leader. I have to be a good leader for the time being.”

Although Simms likely will be sidelined for the season with his injury, Gradkowski said he plans on leaning on the veteran quarterback for advice and guidance at some point this season.

“I know what type of competitor Chris is, and he’s been helping me every day since the day I stepped into this place,” said Gradkowski. “I have a great comfort level with him, and I’m going to be asking him all sorts of questions. He’s just trying to get healthy, and I know he will. He’s a tough guy.

“Chris kind of left us with that toughness. We want to go win for him and keep moving on.”

Despite the fact that Tampa Bay is off to an 0-3 start and faces the 3-0 New Orleans Saints and 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals in its next two contests, the Bucs are hoping Gradkowski serves as a spark that can help turn the team’s season around.

“We’re not concerned with if the players is a rookie or a 15th-year veteran,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “It’s a matter of how you fit in. Bruce has demonstrated that he’s very capable. Everything we’ve seen from him and the way he acts around the team is very positive. We see it as a great opportunity for him to hopefully take the reigns and run with them.”

BUCS CONTINUE TO SEARCH FOR QUARTERBACK
The Bucs still are conducting their search for a third-string quarterback.

Tampa Bay spent Tuesday working out several quarterbacks, including Shaun King, Tommy Maddox and Kliff Kingsbury. During the first week of the regular season, the Bucs worked out quarterbacks Stefan LeFors and Todd Bouman.

As of Wednesday evening, the Bucs had not signed a quarterback, but the team is still looking for ways to acquire a veteran quarterback via free agency or even a trade.

“We had brought in some quarterbacks earlier in the season also,” said Allen. “We’re taking all of them into consideration as well as some other avenues that you can acquire players.”

The Bucs, who are off to an 0-3 start and are in last place in the NFC South division, also are exploring the possibility of acquiring other players in an effort to upgrade their roster.

“We’re searching for players, not just limiting our search to the quarterback position,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We’re going to look at every avenue and vehicle that’s out there, whether it be a offensive player, a defensive player or a quarterback. But we are looking. We had a workout here yesterday, and five or six candidates were here. We’ll continue looking.”

Added Bucs general manager Bruce Allen: “I’d consider a trade for anybody. It doesn’t have to be the quarterback position. Anything we can do to improve the team we need to try and do.”

The Bucs, who are in their bye week, might not be in a hurry to sign another quarterback. In fact, they haven’t ruled out the possibility of going into the Oct. 8 contest in New Orleans with two signal callers – Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay – on their 53-man roster.

That’s because the Bucs know they will eventually have three quarterbacks on their roster when Luke McCown, who is recovering from surgery to repair a knee injury he suffered in June, is eligible to return from the Physically Unable to Perform list after Tampa Bay’s sixth regular season game of the year.

“That’s an option,” Allen said of the Bucs keeping two quarterbacks on their roster. “With Luke coming in and soon after the preparation of being ready he’s able to get that right now.

“Luke is here every day. He’s here working under the medical supervision. It’s been easy to see, from the very beginning, that he’s come off naturally from the surgery.”

KELLY RETURNS TO PRACTICE
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who has missed Tampa Bay’s last two regular season games with a turf toe injury, returned to practice Wednesday. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden hopes Kelly will play in Tampa Bay’s Oct. 8 game vs. New Orleans and help improve the Bucs’ 21st-ranked defense.

“His status is questionable, but we expect him to play.”

Bucs tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib) and guard Davin Joseph (knee) did not return to practice Wednesday and aren’t expected to practice this week.

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