Head Coach Jon Gruden is satisfied with the readiness of starting QB Jeff Garcia
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to the group of talented, hardworking players the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were forced to part ways with on Saturday.
But time marches on, and with the current 53-man roster ready to roll, Head Coach Jon Gruden and the Bucs are focused squarely on the season-opening contest in New Orleans just a week away.
"Obviously we had some tough decisions but we're excited to get the season going," Gruden said. "New Orleans is going to be a great challenge in itself, but we feel like we've got 53 quality football players and now we've just got to prove it."
Some of the most difficult calls for the Buc management involved familiar faces that have done a lot for the franchise, both on and off the field. Veteran players such as Chris Simms and Ryan Nece were hard to let go, Gruden said, but making such moves is in the nature of the business.
"We had some tough decisions," Gruden reiterated. "It's hard to say goodbye to Chris. He laid it on the line here and did some great things for us and I'm confident that he'll get another opportunity. I can't really speak on every single player, but we had some tough decisions. With that being said, it was emotional, to a degree, and hard. But it is every year. Ryan Nece is a guy that played a lot of football here. I wish all those players the very best. Unfortunately we're only allowed to keep 53 guys."
Those 53 players are now preparing for the New Orleans Saints. Although the Saints are a familiar NFC South foe, they also have some new faces on their 53-man roster, and Gruden said the Bucs have been preparing for the opener for some time now.
"You have to look at New Orleans," Gruden said. "They've made multiple changes. They have some new players in key positions – Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis; they've added some corners; Jeremy Shockey; they've got a great quarterback; and they're well-coached. We tried to moonlight a little bit and see what's going on. There have been some changes in their structure, and I'm sure they'll have some changes they haven't shown waiting for us."
As much of a relief as it is to have cuts out of the way and as exciting as it is to have the first meaningful game just days away, the Bucs' roster is anything but set in stone. Gruden said things could change on any given day, as every team in the NFL is constantly searching for ways to upgrade its talent level.
"We're going to keep looking around," Gruden said. "As I said earlier, we're confident that the 53 guys here earned the right to be here. But that doesn't mean that we're done looking. We're no different than any other team in this league that I know of."
Consistency at Quarterback
Heated battles at some positions on the depth chart made roster cuts more difficult than ever, but the starting quarterback job was never in much doubt.
Even though Jeff Garcia missed much of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury, Gruden will be able to send out the same starting signal caller for the second year in a row. That hasn't happened since the days of Brad Johnson in 2002 and 2003.
"It's actually refreshing to have the same guy two years in a row," Gruden said. "We like Jeff a lot. He's had a tough offseason in regards to the calf injury. He's missed a lot of time, but he was outstanding here today. He's the strength of our offensive football team. He's a veteran signal caller and he's a great competitor."
Garcia saw just three series of action in the preseason, all against Jacksonville in Week Three, but Gruden said he feels confident that his starting passer is ready to go.
"I think he's good," Gruden said. "We had Jeff and a number of players out there before the Houston game at about five o'clock. We were out there about two-and-a-half hours before kickoff and I personally got to chase him around like a chicken and test his mobility. We worked him hard, really hard, all those guys. I can't speak for him, but I do think he's close to 100 percent. I think he feels a lot better."
As nice as it is to have stability at the top of the depth chart, the sense of relief Gruden feels doesn't end there. He said the coaching staff is extremely pleased with the overall depth at quarterback.
"I think Brian Griese and Luke [McCown] showed that they're really capable of running the offense and they've had success in the system themselves," Gruden said. "We are excited about the quarterback position and we'll see what happens."
Although the Bucs won't release their first official injury report until Wednesday, Gruden did take a moment on Sunday to reflect on the relative health of his ballclub with the regular season looming.
"We had a great preseason in a lot of ways," Gruden said. "Unfortunately Davin [Joseph] got hurt, but we got a lot of guys back on the practice field today – B.J. Askew, [Joey] Galloway and [Jovan] Haye, all these guys. So we're excited to get the regular season going and to start it in New Orleans will be a stiff challenge, but it's one our guys are looking forward to."
Joseph's injury is the biggest blow the Bucs suffered this preseason, and his absence will leave the Bucs with just seven healthy offensive linemen for the time being. Gruden expects the group to rise to the challenge, however.
"It's a bit of a concern. Obviously Davin is a big loss for us," Gruden said. "Jeremy [Zuttah] has got to really step up. Anthony Davis had his best game of the preseason the other night in Houston and Dan Buenning will have to be the backup signal caller. We'll have to do the best we can in the time being. Hopefully Davin is a quick healer."
Sabby Piscitelli was also banged up in Houston, but Gruden doesn't believe it will limit the second-year safety in the opener.
"He's okay. He's out here today," Gruden said of Piscitelli. "We expect him to play in New Orleans. We were fortunate. We were concerned about him, but we think he's okay."
More from Coach Gruden
With Micheal Spurlock no longer on the roster, the primary return duties seem to have been placed on the shoulders of rookie wideout Dexter Jackson. Gruden was hesitant to anoint the youngster just yet, but the job seems to be his.
"We believe there's a good chance of that," Gruden said. "Again, we'll have other guys that are capable of doing it, but we see Dexter as a guy that's going to be our returner."
Here are a few of the other topics Gruden touched on Sunday afternoon:
On Jackson's play in Houston: "He showed a lot. He had a big pass interference call penalty which set up a score, he had a big end around, caught a big pass on third down and had the 83-yard punt return. He's getting there. He's certainly a guy that's getting better and a guy that we are excited about."
On if there is a backup plan due to Hurricane Gustav's expected path towards New Orleans: "I don't have any information on that. I just pray that the storm stays out at sea, to be honest with you, and that no one gets hurt. But I don't have any knowledge on that."