QB Bruce Gradkowski learns something new every day in practice
Whether he was floating a pass 52 yards down the field to a well-covered Joey Galloway for a big completion or looking for someone to block on a reverse to Michael Clayton, one thing was clear last Sunday at New Orleans: Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was in his element.
By the time the game was over, Gradkowski had racked up 225 passing yards and two touchdowns on a 20-for-31 passing performance. And far from the dink-and-dunk offense that many expected to see the Buccaneers employ with a rookie signal-caller, Gradkowski came out slinging. His five pass plays of 18 yards or more helped the Buccaneers rally from a 10-point deficit to take the lead before ultimately losing to the Saints, 24-21.
But this is the National Football League, and the glow of a single success is short-lived. In fact, the biggest question on fans' minds this week has to be, can he do it again?
"It's just time to move on to another week," Gradkowski said, handling his initial success with atypical aplomb for a rookie. "[Joey] Galloway texted me to [say], 'Hey, forget about that game. Move on.' He's right. You have to take it one game at a time and you have to move on. In college, I had a 24-hour rule. Our coach had a 24-hour rule. The day after the game, think about it, ponder it. If you want, you enjoy it, if you lost, 'Ah, okay.' [When] twenty-four hours is up, you forget about it. So we forgot about that game. We're moving on. We're looking to Cincinnati."
Against the Bengals, who will enter Raymond James Stadium in search of their fourth win in five games, Gradkowski will again be under center and under the spotlight. Unlike his previous two-week preparation period for the Saints, the sixth-round pick out of Toledo won't have the luxury of extra prep time courtesy of the bye week, but that doesn't bother Gradkowski, who remains confident in himself and his teammates.
"I think this offense is so fun to play in," Gradkowski said. "Just being able to move around, the types of throws we make, and especially the guys around me, the playmakers that we have. I just love the offense. I love the scheme. I love the tempo we play at. Just getting comfortable with it, and being able to build on it each and every week, we're going to continue to have more and more success, and more and more fun."
In addition to less prep time, Gradkowski also faces the challenge of playing a defense that has had the benefit of studying his game film. Don't think the Bengals haven't taken note of Gradkowski's success against the Saints. It's a sure bet that the Bengal defense has studied his in-game tendencies, paying attention to what he did and didn't do well – and defenses learn fast.
Those are but a few of the challenges which a rookie quarterback must continue to overcome, but the upbeat Gradkowski is undeterred and points out that defenses aren't the only ones learning.
"I can always learn stuff," Gradkowski said. "There's not a day that goes by I can't learn more and more about this offense, about football. Every day I come with the attitude that I'm going to get better, I want to learn more. There's always more room and there's always a lot more to learn."
And he knows this Sunday his 100-yard classroom will be surrounded by Buccaneers faithful – a welcome change from the deafening Louisiana Superdome.
"This week I'm looking for our crowd to be cheering," Gradkowski said. "When I threw that touchdown pass [last Sunday], I was like 'Why is it so quiet?' But I was like 'Oh, we're away.' So hopefully this week we'll have a lot to cheer about.
"I'm very excited. I couldn't wait for this time to play at home in front of the home crowd. They're great. Every preseason game, I loved it. I felt so comfortable and confident at home and to hear them screaming this week, I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully we'll give them a lot to scream about."