Head Coach Jon Gruden wants to solve the Buccaneers' penalty problems as soon as possible
Jeff Faine started at center against his 2007 team, the New Orleans Saints, in Week One. Running back Warrick Dunn scored a highlight-reel touchdown in Week Two against the Atlanta Falcons, his 2007 teammates. And next Sunday Brian Griese will start at quarterback against the team that provided his uniform a year ago, the Chicago Bears.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneer veteran reunion tour continues, as Griese was given the nod for his second straight start by Head Coach Jon Gruden on Monday morning. To be precise, Gruden confirmed that there would be no change under center forthcoming, following a turbulent week in which his Buccaneers did make a change at the most high-profile position in sports.
Griese led the Buccaneers to a 24-9 win over the Falcons, completing 18 of 31 passes for 160 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The only giveaway by the Bucs' offense on the day was a red zone fumble by Griese when defensive end John Abraham caught him by surprise from behind. Griese missed a few open men and spoke of some leftover "rust" after the game — his last NFL start was on December 6, 2007 and his last start for the Buccaneers was on October 16, 2005 — but he managed the game well overall and only increased Gruden's confidence in him.
"I thought he did a nice job really," said Gruden. "We had the one turnover late in the football game. He managed the offense. He made some great decisions in the running game. We won the football game. I thought he was solid. I thought he played pretty good."
Gruden had clearly expected that sort of performance, so the decision to stick with Griese is no surprise.
"You know what, he warrants being a starting quarterback in the league, period," said the Bucs' coach. "With that said, we don't anticipate any changes at that position this week.
"Nobody is perfect and I am really aware of the quarterback position and the notoriety that it gets. It will be a tough call but I think right now we will stay status quo and we will move forward and get ready for the Bears."
When Gruden announced the change at quarterback last week, he asserted that Garcia, a Pro Bowler in 2007, was not performing to the same level so far in 2008. Garcia has been slowed by a variety of injuries in recent months and, according to Gruden, was displaying less accuracy on his passes less "swagger" in his game. Gruden seemed to leave the door open to a possible return to the starting lineup for Garcia when he is once again playing at his 2007 level.
Thus, Garcia's role for the remainder of the season remains to be fully shaped. The only current certainty is that Griese will start the next game in Chicago.
"We'll address that," said Gruden. "It's going to be a long season; we're going to need everybody on our football team and we certainly need Jeff Garcia. What his role is will be defined on a weekly basis."
Galloway Status Uncertain
In Week One, Michael Clayton was the odd man out when the Buccaneers kept five of their six receivers active on game day. In the home opener on Sunday, Clayton got to play when Maurice Stovall was deactivated due to a back strain. The receiving corps could change again in Chicago thanks to another injury at the position.
Starting split end Joey Galloway left the Atlanta game in the third quarter with a foot injury and did not return. No official injury report will be released until Wednesday, but Galloway opens the week as the player to watch while the Bucs prepare to face the Bears.
Gruden had no definitive diagnosis on Galloway by Monday morning, as the Bucs were still waiting for reports from the team doctors.
"He's getting evaluated at this point," said Gruden. "Obviously there's some concern."
Gruden was confident, however, that Stovall would be able to return to action against Chicago, so the team could still keep five receivers active if they so choose. The Bucs could try to replace Galloway's speed element — if not his experience — by involving rookie wideout Dexter Jackson, primarily a kick returner so far, in the offensive game plan. However, there are plenty of other options if Galloway does not recover in time to face the Bears.
"Antonio Bryant spent most of training camp playing the split end position," said Gruden. "Certainly Dexter Jackson and Ike Hilliard — Mike Clayton played a little bit yesterday — we cross-train just about all of our receivers [at flanker and split end] and that was one of the great accomplishments we had in training camp."
Bryant could be the key in replacing Galloway's production, if that becomes necessary. The veteran wideout had three catches for 43 yards in the season opener but no receptions on Sunday against Atlanta. He has started the first two games at the flanker spot.
"We'd like to hit him; we had a chance for an explosive play deep yesterday," said Gruden of utilizing Bryant's big-play ability. "He was a key factor on [Earnest] Graham's 70-yard run. He's a physical player and he's a guy we have got to get the ball to. But we like what we see and we're encouraged, very encouraged by what he's done. We're very excited about what he's capable of doing."
Cornerback Aqib Talib missed much of the second half of the Atlanta game after straining a hamstring, but like all of the players injured on Sunday, his status has yet to be determined. However, Gruden did have a better feel for the possible availability of starting right guard Davin Joseph on Monday morning. Gruden is encouraged by Joseph's recovery from a preseason foot injury but may not be counting on the third-year standout this weekend.
"He's walking around," said Gruden. "I would say his status this week is questionable to doubtful but his return appears to be soon. He's got the boot off, he's moving around, he's doing his rehab, he's doing what he's supposed to do. I'll say this: In the absence of Davin, Jeremy Zuttah's going to be a great player. He's done a heck of a job for us. He had a penalty or two yesterday but really played pretty good."
A Blizzard of Yellow
Next Sunday's game in Chicago could be a busy one for the assigned officiating crew if the Buccaneers and Bears are unable to straighten out their penalty problems.
Chicago and Tampa Bay are two of the five most penalized teams in the league through the first two weeks of the season. Chicago has drawn 19 flags for 146 yards this year while the Bucs have committed 18 infractions for 160 yards. Only Green Bay, with 20 penalties for 180 yards so far, has the Bucs and Bears beat in both categories.
Against the Falcons, a rash of penalties kept the Buccaneers from pulling away until the end of the game. Graham even lost a touchdown run to a holding call on fullback B.J. Askew, though the Buccaneers did score on that drive. Later, a personal foul call on rookie CB Elbert Mack helped the Falcons tack on a late field goal and pull within eight points in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs absorbed 11 penalties on Sunday, their highest single-game total since a 12-flag game against the New York Jets on October 9, 2005. A number of them were holding calls that proved difficult to overcome, though that didn't necessarily put the onus on the offensive line.
"It appears that way when you get a run called back," said Gruden. "But we had a penalty on a tight end, we had a holding call on a fullback, we had a holding call on a wide receiver, we had some key penalties on defense, we had some key penalties on special teams. I believe we were the least-penalized team in the preseason and we're the most-penalized team in the regular season. That's another reason I guess we should get rid of training camp because it doesn't matter."
Gruden was joking with that final thought, but he knows the high number of penalties his team has drawn is no laughing matter.
"We've got to get that right, honestly," he said. "That's something we've taken pride in. I've very disappointed and discouraged by it. It's going to hurt us. It hurt us yesterday and hurt us in New Orleans. We've got to do a better job of coaching and do our best to enforce it. We've got to spend more time doing both of those."