QB Brian Griese ran with the Buccaneers' first-team offense in practice on Wednesday
For the first time since October 16, 2005, Brian Griese is at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense. How long he remains there is not yet certain.
On Wednesday, the veteran quarterback was named the Buccaneers' starter for Sunday's home opener against the Atlanta Falcons, replacing Week One starter Jeff Garcia. Head Coach Jon Gruden revealed the switch following the team's afternoon practice but also made it clear that he still believes in Garcia in the long run.
Gruden decided to elevate Griese to the starting lineup after closely evaluating Garcia's performance to date in 2008. Garcia, who led the Buccaneers to a division title in 2007 and played in last year's Pro Bowl, has dealt with a number of injuries and other issues that may have temporarily knocked him off his game.
"We're going to start Brian Griese in the game [against Atlanta]," said Gruden. "It's just my opinion, and we've talked about it a lot with our coaches, [that] Jeff right now is not himself. We're going to give him a week off and try to get him ready to go. Brian Griese's a guy that's had a good training camp. We're going to give Brian the ball and we'll rally around him. Hopefully Jeff can get back ready to roll soon.
"It's been a very interesting last few months, obviously. We've had the injury that occurred late last season, we've had a prolonged calf injury, and I just think right now – I've studied everything he's done and I really believe in this guy as a quarterback – and right now he's not the same guy that he was and I want him to be that. That's all I'm going to say until I see the ball thrown with the crisp, accurate velocity, the confident swagger. We're going to let him sit out a week and hopefully he can get back with us soon. At the same time, our football team has a game Sunday. We've got to get ready for this ballgame. Griese will be ready."
Though quarterback changes can be unsettling, Griese is far from new to the Buccaneers' system. He was with the team during the 2004 and 2005 seasons and was the starter for exactly half of the Bucs' games during that stretch. Though he began the season as Tampa Bay's third-string quarterback in 2004, after arriving from Miami as a free agent, he was in the starting lineup by the sixth game. Second-year man Chris Simms replaced Brad Johnson after the Bucs' 0-4 start, but Simms was injured in his starting debut and Griese took over.
Griese won three of his first five starts as a Buccaneer and finished the season with one of the better passing lines in team history. He completed 69.3% of his passes that year, threw 20 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 97.5. Both his completion percentage and passer rating in 2004 remain Buccaneer single-season records and his 20 TD passes is tied for fifth-most in team annals.
That performance earned Griese the starting nod to open the 2005 season, and he guided the Bucs to a 5-1 start and early command of the NFC South Division. However, in the sixth contest, he sustained a season-ending knee injury against Miami and ended up on injured reserve. In the following offseason, Griese was released by the Buccaneers in a salary-cap move and chose to sign with Chicago.
After two seasons with the Bears, in which he appeared in 13 games with six starts, Griese returned to Tampa in a 2008 offseason trade. Gruden and the Buccaneers coveted their former standout for his poise, intelligence and command of the team's offensive system.
Griese isn't exactly stepping back into the offense cold, either. Due to a lingering calf strain, Garcia missed the majority of the Buccaneers' training camp and played in only one of the four preseason contests. Griese got extensive work with the first-team offense during camp and was outstanding during the preseason. Though his work, too, was somewhat limited in the preseason, Griese completed 74.3% of his passes, threw one touchdown pass and no interceptions and finished with a 94.2 passer rating.
"Again, we're confident in Brian Griese. We're also very confident that Jeff's going to be okay. We're doing what we think gives our team the best opportunity to win this game, this Sunday, and we'd better be ready to go because the Falcons, they're pretty impressive on the tape I've seen."
Griese's offensive teammates are confident in the veteran's ability to step right in and produce.
"Brian Griese is definitely ready to step in and take over the job now," said fullback B.J. Askew. "If the backup comes in, he has to be able to do everything that the guy ahead of him was doing. And Brian's definitely capable – more than capable – of doing just that."
Tight end Alex Smith said the Buccaneers' play-calling won't change despite the switch at quarterback.
"No. [Gruden] will throw it all at him," predicted Smith. "He knows Griese can handle it. He has a real knowledge to be able to pick up this offense and we won't miss a beat with him."