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Another Level

Returning QB Brian Griese believes he can step his game up a notch in 2005 after a very encouraging 2004 season


QB Brian Griese expects to be much more comfortable in the Bucs' offense in 2005

The first time Brian Griese stepped onto the field for a regular season game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he completed a short pass to running back Michael Pittman with his first throw.

His next two passes went for 17 yards to Charles Lee and 19 yards to Michael Clayton. Griese came in to start the second quarter at New Orleans on Oct. 10, 2004 after Chris Simms went down with a shoulder injury, and by halftime had completed four of five passes for 42 yards. By the end of the game – the Bucs' first victory of the season – Griese had connected on 16 of 19 throws for 194 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Not bad for a guy who didn't know what he was doing.

At least, that's the way it's going to seem to Griese by the time the 2005 season rolls around. He had signed with the Bucs last March and by all accounts had picked up Jon Gruden's offensive scheme quickly; Gruden raved about Griese's "photographic memory." Still, he was the third-string quarterback for the first month of the season, which meant sparse reps. He had moved up to second-string for the week of preparation before the Saints game, but the Bucs' offense spent that week getting ready for a left-handed offense behind Simms, the southpaw. Griese's near-record completion percentage under those circumstances was remarkable, and a harbinger of things to come.

But it should be nothing compared to what Griese can do in the Bucs' offense in 2005. In retrospect, he knows he was operating without a full grasp of the operating manual.

"I look back on it and when I started in September until the end of the season, I grew a lot in the system," said Griese. "So while I feel comfortable, I haven't mastered this system by any stretch. I'm sure by the start of this training camp I'll look back at a year ago and say I didn't know anything. Hopefully it will be better."

Now that he has re-signed with the Buccaneers – a development he wasn't sure would come to pass until Sunday – Griese is focused on just that: Making 2005 better than 2004. That would certainly validate the Bucs' desire to bring the eighth-year veteran back, given that his 97.5 passer rating in '04 was the best in franchise history. Of course, Griese is thinking largely in terms of wins and losses, and there is definitely room for improvement after a 5-9 finish last year.

"Like I said before, I'm looking to really take the next step, mentally as well as physically," he said. "The thing I can do better is win some more ballgames. I think that leading our team and leading our offense and getting in the end zone will help us to do that."

Another year in the same system is one reason Griese was motivated to return when he could have hit a free agent market that is relatively soft in available quarterbacks. He believes he can better utilize such weapons as Clayton and Michael Pittman as he becomes more familiar with their talents and preferences, and, conversely, thinks the other offensive players can get a better grasp on what he does well.

"I had an opportunity to play in Denver for a couple years before I went to the Pro Bowl," said Griese, who led the NFL with a passer rating of 102.9 and earned an all-star berth in 2000, his third year in Denver and second as the starter. "I became very comfortable in that system and the way that the plays were called, different situations during the games. That's why I'm really looking forward to this upcoming year, having gotten a little more comfortable with this system. I'm expecting a lot out of myself. I'm expecting to be a leader on this team and hopefully to get us back in the playoffs."

Griese is in the middle of a lengthy game-tape review of his 11 games in 2004. He is purposely being very critical of his own work in order to find areas in which to improve. In a more specific sense than wins and losses, Griese has focused on one area in which he wants to be better in 2005: turnovers.

"I turned the ball over too many times last year, and I'm the first one to admit that," said Griese, who nonetheless had a respectable 20-12 touchdown-interception ratio. "That's something I'm going to be working on, but not losing my aggressiveness at the same time is important."

Griese's return came courtesy of a reworked contract, since his original deal would have been unworkable for the cap-strapped Buccaneers in 2005. Five of his teammates restructured their deals and several others were released so that the Bucs could be compliant with the new season's spending limit. In the end, there probably won't be enough cap space for the Bucs to be wild shoppers on the free agent market, but Griese isn't worried about the cupboards being bare.

"I think from this point forward you have to be positive and go forward with the people that we do have," said Griese. "That's my plan. I'm going to be positive each and every day. No matter who we bring in or don't bring in, I know we have some talent here to work with. I'm going to hopefully be part of that and work with those guys so we can be better, because I don't think we were that far away [last year]."

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