Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Regular Joe

Relaxed rookie QB Joe Hamilton stopped to chat after another week of summer practices concluded


Rookie QB Joe Hamilton likes what he sees when he looks around the Bucs' practice field

After nearly winning the Heisman Trophy as a Georgia Tech senior in 1999, Joe Hamilton lasted until the seventh round of the 2000 NFL draft.

But let's get a few things straight right off the top: Hamilton is not bitter about his draft position, he doesn't think he has anything to prove and he's not trying to make the other 30 NFL teams pay for passing him up.

This is not a disgruntled-rookie story. Hamilton is ecstatic to be in Tampa and completely unconcerned about his slot in the draft. He is confident without sounding cocky. He is simply an electric college quarterback who believes he can succeed at the NFL level as well.

At least that's the impression Hamilton gave after concluding his second week of voluntary summer practices with his new team in Tampa. The rookie alternated with just two other quarterbacks – Shaun King and Eric Zeier – and since there were often several passing drills going at once, he received a significant number of snaps. And it's not likely that Hamilton's feelings were misinterpreted, as he handles the media with practiced ease, probably springing from the enormous attention he received as the Yellow Jackets' leader last year.

He was the first Georgia Tech player ever to win the Davey O'Brien award, given to the nation's top senior quarterback. He compiled a passer efficiency rating of 175.0, the sixth best in NCAA history en route to first-team All America honors from all the prominent news sources. He threw for 29 touchdowns and ran for six more. And did he run; his 734 rushing yards were the most in NCAA Division I-A history by a quarterback who also threw for 3,000 yards.

But the numbers that were most prominent on draft day were, of course, 5-10. That's Hamilton's height, well below the standard for an NFL quarterback. Again, Hamilton agrees that was a hindrance on draft day but has no bitterness about that fact.

"I definitely think it was my size, but I can't do anything about that," he said. "What I can do is go out there and show people that I can play. I've been 5-10 my whole life and I've been a quarterback my whole life. I don't even look at it as something I have to prove."

He has shown at these summer workouts that he has a strong and accurate arm and a capacity to absorb a new offense quickly. Hamilton, like the rest of the Bucs' offensive players, is learning the system being installed by new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel. These weeks of voluntary workouts are allowing the offense to get a grasp of the new system before training camp, which opens in late July. "It helps that we're all learning a new offense," said Hamilton. "That way, I don't have to be the only one out there making mistakes."

King and Zeier, while taking in the new information themselves, have been very supportive of Hamilton, according to the rookie.

"They're superb guys," said Hamilton of his fellow signal-callers. "They have great attitudes. They really want to help me. If I have a question in a meeting, they give me the exact answer, and if they don't know the answer, they go find it out. Coach Steckel's attitude helps, too. He stresses exactness and discipline. You're going to make mistakes, but it's how well you respond to those mistakes and avoid making them again that determines if you will succeed."

Hamilton thinks he will succeed in the NFL, and that's partly because he's starting his career with the Buccaneers. After meeting with Tony Dungy at the league scouting combine in February, Hamilton is confident that Dungy believes in him and will put him in a position to excel. Hamilton also feels that the Buccaneer offense, which usually will not throw 40-50 passes in a game, is a good fit for his skills.

"This is an offense I can work in," said Hamilton. "I thought all along that the Bucs would be the perfect team for me to continue what I've been doing on the football field. If another team had drafted me in the fourth round, I wouldn't be as happy as I was to be a seventh-round pick of the Buccaneers."

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