QB Jeff Garcia connected with some of his newest teammates this week, and found himself encouraged
When quarterback Jeff Garcia takes the first snap of the 2008 season, it will likely be from a center that is both brand new and familiar at the same time.
That's because, barring injury, Garcia will line up under Jeff Faine, signed this offseason to replace the recently departed John Wade in the middle of a young and rising offensive line. Although Faine will be joining Garcia for the first time in a pewter and red jersey, the two actually spent the 2004 season together with the Cleveland Browns.
Garcia and Faine worked together before the latter's career really took off in New Orleans, but the quarterback isn't surprised that his former teammate has developed into one of the league's best.
"I think [Faine is] a great center," said Garcia after a recent 'organized team activity' (OTA) day workout. "I think he has great abilities. He's a very athletic center. He's young, he's mobile and he's aggressive.
"I really felt like last year John Wade did an outstanding job playing center for this team. He was a sturdy, dependable guy. It's too bad that we don't have John back here, but Jeff Faine is a great guy who can come in and do just as good a job, if not maybe grow at the position and improve the position. That's what [the coaching staff is] looking at Jeff to do, and I think he'll be able to manage that line well."
Actually, Faine isn't the only member of that 2004 Browns squad that could be making his Buccaneers debut in 2008. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who also played with Garcia that year after joining Cleveland in a midseason trade, signed with the Bucs as a free agent last month after sitting out the 2007 season.
In Bryant's last complete season in the league, with the Browns in 2005, he posted 69 receptions for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns. Garcia knows that Bryant is excited for the opportunity to revive his career and get back to his playmaking ways.
"He has tremendous ability," Garcia said. "You can watch his highlight films and the guy makes plays all over the field. Hopefully [some previous issues have] been put behind him, [but] in my experience of working with him, I have nothing but positive things to say. I think he'll be a positive addition to this team."
In addition to those two former teammates who will be lining up alongside him in 2008, Garcia said he was also interested to see what the two new free agent tight ends the Bucs have signed – Ben Troupe and John Gilmore – can add to the position.
Joining returning tight end Alex Smith, a talented young player in his own right, will be an interesting pair of new faces. Troupe has developed a reputation for his pass-catching while Gilmore is known for his blocking talents, but Garcia said both of them bring a lot to the table.
"We have some skill and talent there at the tight end position," Garcia said. "I think it's going to be very competitive. I think Ben Troupe is a guy who brings some ability, speed, and can get down the field. I think he'll challenge Alex [Smith] in a lot of ways.
"[John] Gilmore, coming from Chicago, is going to be a great asset as far as a blocking tight end, but also has the ability to catch the football himself. So I think the quality at the position is one thing that we're trying to improve upon and create a more competitive atmosphere so that the best will rise to the top."
Finally, one of the new weapons at Garcia's disposal is making more of a homecoming than a Buccaneer debut. That would be running back Warrick Dunn, a Buc from 1997-2001 who is back after spending the previous six seasons in Atlanta.
Although Dunn may find the backfield crowded with Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett and the recovering Cadillac Williams, Garcia still feels the once and future Buc will prove to be an excellent addition.
"He's a tremendous back [with] tremendous ability," Garcia said. "He can play any down. He can do anything for your team. We've seen that with what they relied upon him in Atlanta and what he did here prior to being in Atlanta, right here in Tampa Bay.
"I know he's a fan favorite. He's a great guy, great teammate. I've been fortunate enough to have met him prior to him joining the team and be around him. He's really a first-class person. When you add guys like that who have the ability to play on the field, it's a win-win situation. We're welcoming him back and it's great to have him here."
While Garcia was also quick to praise his returning teammates from last season's NFC South champions, the new additions to the Bucs have only made him more excited for the club's prospects in 2008.
With a bevy of potential stars waiting to be selected by the Bucs in the upcoming draft, the talent surrounding the Bucs' veteran signal caller could possibly be elevated even further. But as the team goes through its first organized activities of the offseason, Garcia said he is pleased with the players already surrounding him, new signees included.
"If we can add some speed and some strength through the draft, then more power to us," Garcia said. "But the guys that are on this field right now are the guys that are going to help us win football games."