Bruce Gradkowski might be a sixth-round draft pick, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he carries himself on the football field or by head coach Jon Gruden’s comments regarding the former Toledo quarterback.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Gradkowski started 36 of the 49 games he played in at Toledo. He posted some impressive stats, completing 68.2 percent of his career passes and throwing for 9,225 yards while tossing 85 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. He also showed some intriguing mobility, rushing for 1,018 career yards (4.1 avg.) and 14 touchdowns.
Although he had seen plenty of tape on his newest quarterback, Gruden wasted no time Friday confirming his thoughts on Gradkowski, who apparently has already earned a nickname.
“I call him Zeke,” Gruden said, referring to QB Zeke Bratkowski, who played for the Bears, Rams and Packers from 1954-1971. “Remember Zeke Bratkowski? This guy gets it done. He completes passes, and he’s very mobile. He’s an explosive guy. He can run under 4.6. He’s a winner, and he’s a guy that has a charismatic flare to him. He’s a leader, he’s got athletic ability and he can make all sorts of throws. When things do bring breakdown, he’s got the mobility to make a play.”
Gradkowski came away from his first practice as a Buc quite impressed with Gruden, who also is the team’s offensive play caller and has earned a reputation for bringing quarterbacks along in the NFL.
“It was awesome,” Gradkowski said after practice on Friday. “Coach Gruden knows so much, to get the chance to learn under him is just unbelievable. I’m just thankful for this opportunity. I’ve just got to come out every day and work. This team is going to be good this year. With what he wants around here, that just shows how good of a team this is. This is a world championship team and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Not only does he have Gruden to learn from, Gradkowski also has the luxury of learning from Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, who is considered one of the best in the business in terms of grooming young quarterbacks into productive players.
“Coach Hackett, I talked to him after the draft and once or twice this week,” said Gradkowski. “Then he came and picked me up at the airport. That was nice of him to do. He’s a great guy. Football-wise, he’s unbelievable. Where he’s been and who he’s coached, I’m just proud and humble to be a part of this right now and just learn from the best coaches in this league.”
Gradkowski has his work cut out for him. Not only is he a rookie, Gradkowski also is competing with the likes of Chris Simms, Tim Rattay, Luke McCown and Jared Allen for three available roster spots.
While he admittedly has a long way to go before he can earn an active roster spot, Gradkowski plans on putting in the work necessary to make his trip to Tampa Bay a permanent vacation.
“I thank Coach Gruden and his staff for getting me out of Pittsburgh because I’ve always dreamed of living in Florida,” said Gradkowski. “How could you wake up and be in a bad mood living in this weather? I’m used to Toledo weather and all the snow. This is unbelievable.
“When I was drafted I think my parents went to every store in Pittsburgh and bought up all the Tampa Bay jerseys. It’s hard to find Tampa Bay gear in Pittsburgh because it’s all Steelers stuff, but my family said, ‘We’re not rooting for the Steelers anymore, we’re rooting for Tampa Bay!'”
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