The Buccaneers rolled the dice somewhat when they went into their last two games against New Orleans and Cincinnati with just two active quarterbacks – Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay — on the roster, leaving the “worst case scenario” question unanswered.
That could change soon as Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday that he expects to see backup quarterback Luke McCown return to practice Wednesday. McCown was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list in late July with a partially torn ACL, which he suffered in late June. He has not participated in anything team-wise since, but league rules say he is eligible to return following Week 6.
The league affords teams a three-week window to evaluate players on the PUP list after that date. When that three-week evaluation is up, Gruden and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen must make a decision as to whether they want to put McCown on injured reserve, release him or activate him. Should they choose to activate him to the 53-man roster they would be forced to release someone else in order to make room.
“Well, he looks good out here on the field, going through the bags and all the drills and throwing the football,” Gruden said of McCown. “But putting him underneath the center and having him react in a football uniform will be something we have to look at.”
Originally selected by Cleveland in the fourth round (106th – overall) of the 2004 draft, McCown was acquired by the Bucs via a trade with the Browns prior to the 2005 season. He was declared inactive as the third quarterback for the first 10 games of 2005, but was promoted to backup following Brian Griese’s knee injury in the Miami game.
Gruden acquired McCown because he was an athletic quarterback with a strong arm. While in college at Louisiana Tech, McCown set teams records for completions (1,088), attempts (1,088) and yards (12,994). He threw for 88 touchdowns and ran for 11. In five games with the Browns, four of which he started, McCown completed 49 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
While he’s still on their active roster, Chris Simms is recovering from a Splenectomy and could be headed for injured reserve. Seventh-year pro Tim Rattay has been the Buccaneers’ only other active quarterback behind starter Bruce Gradkowski on game days since Simms suffered the injury against the Carolina Panthers.
Gruden and Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett are high on McCown, evidenced by the fact that they opted not to place him on injured reserve and haven’t signed a free agency quarterback since Simms was injured on Oct. 8. Instead, they’ve kept two quarterbacks on their game day roster while awaiting McCown’s return from the PUP list.
Gruden said McCown has looked healthy, but reiterated the fact that he needs to see more in the upcoming three-week window in order to make a decision.
“Bottom line is, are the doctors going to pass [McCown] to play,” Gruden asked. "Are you going to be cleared physically to play? And if you are, then we’ll consider activating him. We’ve got to make sure we do the right things and observe him in a football uniform, on the practice field, before we can make a final determination.”