QB Brian Griese feels very comfortable running Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense
Brian Griese has been through Jon Gruden's "Quarterback Orientation" days before, in 2004 and 2005 during his two years as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. The name sounds a little more dramatic than the reality – NFL offseason rules impose certain limits on what a team can do with its players on and off the field on any given day – but it's true that Gruden likes to start his spring program by making sure he and the quarterbacks are all on the same page.
These days always fall near the end of March, when the Buccaneers begin their full 14-week offseason training program. When Griese left the team in early March in 2006 and promptly signed a sizeable contract with the Chicago Bears, he probably figured he'd seen his last QB Orientation day.
In fact, as recently as last weekend, Griese was probably thinking of anything but Gruden and his meetings.
And yet there he was, this past Monday morning, speaking to the Bucs' coach on the phone and setting up plans to be back in Tampa in just a few weeks.
It was through a call from his former Buccaneers coach that Griese first learned of the trade that had been swung between Tampa Bay and Chicago. On Monday, the Bucs agreed to give up an undisclosed pick in the 2009 draft in order to reacquire the quarterback who, in 2004, set a single-season franchise record with a 97.5 passer rating.
Gruden clearly believed in Griese after his two seasons in Tampa, but salary cap issues made it impossible for the Bucs to commit to new deals for both him and the younger Chris Simms at the time. Thus, Griese spent the past two years in the Windy City, mostly backing up Rex Grossman. But Monday's trade gives the Bucs a mulligan on Griese, and means the 32-year-old passer will be in Florida for the start of the offseason program in less than two weeks.
"We're in a fortunate situation with the salary cap room that we have now that we didn't have two years ago," said Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen. "We had the luxury of getting an experienced quarterback, a quarterback that has performed well in our system."
Gruden can expect that same sharp student he came to know in 2004-05. Griese said he expected to have little difficulty in making the transition from the Bears' offense back into Gruden's attack.
"Obviously, there will be a short period of adjustment," he explained. "I'm going to be coming down for the quarterback orientation in a couple weeks – I'm looking forward to that. I'll see what things they've done differently in the past two years. I've had a chance to watch them on film quite a bit, playing in the NFC and playing them a couple of times. I think I'll be very familiar with what they're doing. I don't think that Jon has changed too much in his offense.
"At the end of the day, I'm happy to be back. I think I work well with Jon in his system. I feel very comfortable in that system and I look forward to the opportunity."
When Griese left for Chicago after being waived on March 10 in 2006, he was coming off a season in which he lost the last 10 games to a knee injury. He had led the Bucs to a 5-1 start in 2005 after his record-setting output in 10 starts in 2004. Simms had finished the 2005 season strong; otherwise, the Bucs had little else at the position.
Two years later, the landscape is quite different. Jeff Garcia, the team's prized free agent pickup a year ago, is coming off a Pro Bowl season in his first year at the helm. Reserve Luke McCown helped the playoff-bound Bucs stay afloat with a strong showing in December. Fellow reserve Bruce Gradkowski saw little action in 2007 but was the primary starter in '06 after an injury to Simms. Simms hasn't played since his splenectomy in 2006 but believes he is finally returning to his pre-injury form.
It might be difficult for any incoming quarterback to figure out where he fits into that picture, but Griese isn't concerned.
"I'm not really looking at it that way," he said. "I'm looking at it as an opportunity to get back into a situation that's good for us and my family. No matter where I've been, I've always had the opportunity to play. The first time I came to Tampa I was a third-string quarterback behind Brad [Johnson] and Chris. Nothing was guaranteed to me. When I had the opportunity to play, it was just about making the most of that opportunity. This chance is no difference."
Four games into Griese's first year with the Buccaneers, with the team nursing an 0-4 record and the offense struggling, the decision was made to bench Super Bowl hero Brad Johnson in favor of the promising Simms. The second-year passer looked good in his starting debut at New Orleans…for about a quarter, until a hard hit by defensive end Will Smith resulted in a shoulder injury that would take months to heal. Griese stepped in and led the Bucs to victory in New Orleans, as well as in four of their next seven games.
Gruden couldn't say enough about how quickly Griese had grasped the concepts of the Bucs' offense.
"I think Jon puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make correct decisions and to play the mental game within the game," said Griese. "That's been a strength of mine, to be able to use all the weapons on offense – whether it's running backs, tight ends, receivers. It's a system that I've been in most of my career, that I'm very familiar with and which plays to my strengths."
Gruden wasn't putting the pressure on when he called Griese on Monday, just making sure the returning QB knew how excited the Bucs were to have him back. The mental grilling? That will start later this month with the Quarterback Orientation days. Griese couldn't have foreseen, a week ago, that he would be part of that process, but he's pleased that it worked out that way.
"I'm happy to be coming back to Tampa," he said. "I have a lot of good memories from playing there, and I'm familiar with the area and the system and a lot of the players. The community was always good to me while I was there. It's nice to be familiar with all of that.
"I never really wanted to leave in the first place, to be honest with you."