QB Brian Griese will make his first start as a Buccaneer since October of 2005
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced on Wednesday that Brian Griese would replace Jeff Garcia as the starting quarterback this week. Four days later, Griese is ready to prove the wisdom of that move.
"Brian had a good week of practice; actually, he's looked good on the practice field ever since he came back [in March]," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He has played well for us before, in 2004 and 2005. He ran the first-team offense through most of camp and when he plays, he plays well.
"Brian is a leader, he has a record of success here and he knows the players. I expect us to rally around him."
This will mark the first time since 1993 that the Buccaneers have started a different quarterback in games one and two of the season. That season, the Buccaneers opened with Steve DeBerg at the helm but went to second-year man Craig Erickson in the second week. Erickson started the rest of the '93 season, but the Buccaneers of 2008 aren't looking that far down the road.
"We're going to play the guy that we think gives us the best chance to win this week," said Gruden. "I understand the emotions of a switch like this can run high, but we believe we're doing the right thing. Who will be best for us next week, we'll see next week. In fairness to Jeff, we're giving him a week off and we're going to help him return to the level of play we know he's capable of. He's missed a lot of work and he just hasn't been the same player yet, but we're confident he will be that player again soon. We need that player."
In a separate situation that was much more uncertain, the Buccaneers got good news on Sunday morning when veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks passed his pregame test on the field. Brooks sat out practice all week after straining a hamstring in the season opener, but did enough rehab work to get ready for today's contest. He will play in his 210th consecutive game at weakside linebacker for the Buccaneers.
The Bucs have apparently hedged their bets a little bit regarding Brooks' health. In the season opener, rookie Geno Hayes, Brooks' primary backup on the depth chart, was one of the eight Tampa Bay players deactivated. This week, the Bucs will keep Hayes active and instead put LB Matt McCoy down; perhaps also playing a part in this decision – McCoy's minor groin injury, suffered a week ago.
The only other change to the Bucs' usual starting 11 on offense is a switch that was also made last week in the season opener: rookie Jeremy Zuttah for Davin Joseph at right guard. Joseph is progressing rapidly from his preseason foot injury and Gruden said he hopes to see the third-year veteran back on the field in a week or two, but he will be deactivated again today. Zuttah, who drew praise for his performance with the starting line in New Orleans, will make a second straight start.
"He's done a really nice job for us," said Gruden of the Bucs' third-round pick in 2008. "He was a tackle at Rutgers and we hoped he could be our sixth man on the line right away, backing up at guard and center. What really impressed us in camp was when he would play center in the morning, then come out and play guard in the afternoon. In the preseason, he would play several different positions in one game, and he handled it all well. He's smart, he doesn't make mistakes and he pass-protects well. We've been really pleased with him."
The Buccaneers gained 146 rushing yards on just 20 carries behind that line in New Orleans. Assuming game circumstances permit, they want to run it even more against Atlanta.
"We were a good running team last year and I think we're a good running team now," said Gruden. "Atlanta has some big, physical players inside – especially Grady Jackson, who I know very well – but we're not going to back down from what we want to do because of anybody we're facing. We're going to play our game. We wanted to run the ball more in New Orleans, but we were knocked off that plan by some really horrific penalties at the wrong times."
Of course, the Falcons are almost certain to focus on the run, too, after gaining a franchise-record 318 rushing yards against Detroit last weekend. Free agent acquisition Michael Turner ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns on his own, and he had a lot of help up front.
"They were pretty impressive, and that was against a defensive front that looked very familiar to us," said Gruden. "They had some gaping holes, and if you give those to a great back, he's going to run all over you. They out-flanked them and out-leveraged them, and it was with plays and formations we've seen before. They just executed very well."
The Bucs have elected to move Garcia, who is dealing with a minor ankle injury, to the designated third quarterback role, with Luke McCown staying active to back up Garcia. The Bucs other seven inactives are McCoy, Joseph, QB Josh Johnson, RB Michael Bennett, T Charles Lee, WR Maurice Stovall and DT Greg Peterson. Stovall is dealing with an upper back strain, which means the Bucs will be without one of their best special teams players. On the other hand, his inactivity gives WR Michael Clayton a chance to join the 45-man game day list.
The Falcons had one surprise among their eight inactives, and one lineup change as a result. Veteran DT Grady Jackson, who was not on Atlanta's injury report during the week, has been deactivated. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by fourth-year man Jason Jefferson.
The Falcons' other seven inactives are S Jamaal Fudge, CB David Irons, LB Tony Gilbert, C Alex Stepanovich, T Quinn Ojinnaka, TE Martrez Milner and designated third quarterback D.J. Shockley. Stepanovich is out due to injury. K Jason Elam, who was on the midweek injury report with a hip ailment, will be active.
The Buccaneers and Falcons will get underway shortly, with kickoff scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post a review of all the action at halftime and an extensive game story, with links for stats, photos, scoring information and more, shortly after the final whistle.