Rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski has made steady progress that is not measured in the raw stats
After debuting with a 107.6 passer rating in his first professional start, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has since experienced a statistical decline. Still, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden, never one to rely on stats, believes his young charge is continuing to progress steadily.
The maturation process of a rookie quarterback is never easy, and over the last two weeks Gradkowski has proven to be no exception to that rule. His completion percentage has dropped, and he has failed to throw a touchdown during that span. But raw numbers don't always tell the true story.
Gruden admitted that Gradkowski has not been as accurate as he would prefer, but he also acknowledged that the quarterback's lack of production isn't necessarily all the rookie's own fault. In addition to the quality defenses the team has played this season, the Buccaneers' passing game has also been stunted by some unfortunate miscues on the part of fellow Buccaneers players.
"I think in some regards he's doing some very good things," Gruden said, commenting on Gradkowski. "He is missing some throws. He is seeing a lot of defenses; he's seeing some very good football teams too. I believe every team we play seems like it is in first place every week we play them, so he's seeing some very tough defenses, certainly. He did miss some throws, and again he had some balls dropped [against the Giants]. I think we had five or six balls dropped yesterday, which takes its toll on you."
Further compounding the problem is that the Buccaneers have often found themselves behind in the score and needing to pass to catch up. That prohibitive scenario has not only limited the Buccaneers' running attack, it has forced Gradkowski to pass against defenses that essentially know what's coming. That's not a recipe for effectiveness in the passing game.
"We've seen some excellent football teams, from Baltimore to Philadelphia to Carolina – teams that are pretty darn good against the run also," Gruden explained. "We've been behind, which has a lot to do with the stat sheet. You just can't compare numbers; you've got to compare what happened in games. Last year we won our first four games and clearly the clock was the enemy, and we were running the ball repeatedly in the fourth quarter. But right now when we're playing from behind, it's hard to do that."
The result has been 149 pass attempts for Gradkowski through four games, including games where he has attempted 44 and 48 passes. It's a much higher number of pass attempts than Gruden would prefer, but Gradkowski has handled the pass-heavy offense well, refusing to make the critical error. Through those 149 pass attempts, Gradkowski has thrown only one interception. For a rookie quarterback, that's big. Even for a veteran quarterback, that's big.
Case in point: This past weekend, Houston Texans quarterback David Carr was benched for his lack of ball security. A little more than a week ago Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe lost his job because of it. And Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has his team in a hole because he's been plagued by it this season. Conversely, Gradkowski's refusal to implode has kept the Buccaneers in position to win the games they have, and it kept the team close against the New Orleans Saints, the team they again face this Sunday.
"Whatever we need to do to win football games, we're going to try to do – if that's throwing the ball 50 times or running the ball 50 times," Gradkowski said. "We're going to try to do the best we can in whatever's going to work for us in that game. Whatever Coach calls for us, we're going to try to execute. People might be saying that we threw the ball a lot, but there are definitely plays out there to be made on my part, the receivers' part, offensive line's part. We all played a factor in it, and we just have to learn from our mistakes and move on.
"I think I'm progressing pretty well. I'm never going to be satisfied with where I'm at or how I've been doing. I can always do better. That's just the way I look at it. I have a long way to go, and just trying to get better each and every week is going to be important."
And as for those decreasing statistics, the only numbers with which Gradkowski concerns himself are those under the win column.
"We're definitely getting close," he said. "It's just little things here and there that we have to correct and fine tune, but we're going to get this done. We're going to move. We're going through a tough period right now, but we just have to practice harder, work harder and find ways to win."