A very mobile quarterback, Luke McCown hurt his knee last week on a move he has made many times in the past
Last Tuesday, during an ordinary "organized team activity" workout at team headquarters, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Luke McCown made a move he has made thousands of times before – even, he says, in his sleep. This time, something went wrong.
A week later, following the first of the four practices that will comprise an offseason-capping mini-camp, Head Coach Jon Gruden revealed that McCown has sustained an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will require surgery. McCown is expected to miss at least the beginning of the 2006 season.
Gruden remained hopeful that McCown could return at some point during the upcoming campaign.
"He's going to have surgery here in the next couple days," said the coach. "Our main man down in Miami, Dr. [John] Zvijac will do a great job, and [Head Trainer] Todd Toriscelli will begin the rehab process immediately. We can only update you as time moves on, but right now he won't be with us for the early part of the season. But knowing Luke McCown like I do, he'll be back sooner than most guys."
McCown, who is known as a very mobile quarterback, hurt his knee on a non-contact play. After rolling right in the backfield, he had attempted to plant his right leg and cut upfield to run with the ball, a move he has made many times in the past. The result was an injury whose severity will not be completely known until surgery. He was able to walk off the field after the mishap, and even played golf with Coach Gruden on Monday.
"Everything that I've heard is that the stronger you go into surgery, the stronger you come out," said McCown. "That's kind of the main thing before any surgery on joints, especially, to make sure you have the closest to full range of motion as you can get. You would like there to be as little swelling as possible and your legs to be strong going into it. That usually puts you ahead of the game coming out, as far as rehab goes. So we're looking forward to a speedy recovery."
The team does not have to make an immediate decision on McCown's roster status, but he could end up on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Unlike injured reserve, the PUP option allows for the possibility of a return to the active roster during the 2006 season, after at least six games have been played.
As an example, the Bucs took that approach with guard Matt O'Dwyer in 2004. O'Dwyer tore a pectoral muscle during a July workout and was placed on the reserve/PUP list on August 31. He was later activated on November 30 and was able to play in four of the team's last five games as a reserve.
"Yeah, that's a good possibility," said Gruden of the PUP option. "Again, when we see the results of this surgery, Dr. Zvijac will let us know. He's worked so well with us in the past. We'll make a final conclusion then."
McCown is confident he can make it back quickly.
"I've generally throughout my career been a fast-healer from anything," he said. "It's just a matter of getting back, getting strong, getting my legs back under me and getting going."
The Buccaneers still have four healthy quarterbacks to distribute passes in practice. McCown was the team's primary backup to starter Chris Simms during the second half of the 2005 season, but the team also returns Simms and veteran Tim Rattay from that '05 group. In addition, the Bucs drafted Toledo standout Bruce Gradkowski in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, and have first-year man Jared Allen back after a successful stint in the NFL Europe League.
"[McCown] was in a battle with Tim Rattay, and Bruce Gradkowski is not going to go away," said Gruden. "It's going to be very interesting to see where Bruce can go in the next three or four months. We're going to miss McCown's athleticism, certainly. He was getting better in all areas and hopefully he gets back soon."
Though McCown was upbeat on Tuesday – his strong Christian faith convinces him that there is a purpose to this turn of events – the injury did put a detour in his path. Since coming to the Buccaneers on a draft weekend trade 14 months ago, he had developed steadily and was looking forward to a competitive training camp. He cites a greater comfort level in the huddle, more confidence in him from his teammates and a year's worth of maturity as making a major difference this spring.
"I felt like I was moving along and I was really looking forward to having an opportunity if it came my way this year," said McCown. "I felt really good. It was night and day from this time last year."
The Bucs could scan the NFL waiver wire in search of another established veteran quarterback to bring to training camp, but Gruden says the team won't do so simply for the purpose of replacing McCown with another passer.
"We've got four quarterbacks," Gruden reiterated. "We're not going to just bring anybody in because he has experience. We're looking for somebody out there who has good experience who can come in and play well and help us. If there's a guy like that out there who we deem is worthy of bringing in here, we'll do that. But if we don't, we have a young quarterback in Chris Simms who needs a lot of work, and Bruce Gradkowski needs a lot of work and Tim Rattay needs a lot of work. Jared Allen had a good stint over there in the World League. If we bring a guy in, we're going to bring a guy in with a purpose."