The structure of the Bucs' offense shouldn't change much with Brian Griese at the helm
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden often likes to use automotive metaphors when discussing his currently-rehabbing and aptly-named running back, Cadillac Williams.
"We're anxious to take the car out of the shop and drive it," Gruden said on Thursday, for example.
But as the Bucs prepare to square off in Week Two against the Atlanta Falcons, with Brian Griese starting at quarterback in place of Jeff Garcia, here's an analogy for that situation that Gruden could appreciate:
The bus driver might be different, but the bus will run just the same.
"I don't think it's going to be a dramatic change of personality," Gruden said after practice Friday afternoon, contemplating the offense under Griese's direction. "We've got some interesting characters that aren't changing. Even if Elvis came back to play quarterback, some of these guys aren't changing.
"We've had a good week of practice. It's a credit to all the guys. They picked it up. They're upset to a degree. They want to play better and they want to win. That's important, that's really great to see. Brian had a good week of practice, and he has practiced well since he's been back. We're excited by that."
Gruden's level of confidence in Griese comes as little surprise, as he has repeatedly referenced Griese's success within the Bucs' offensive scheme during the passer's first stint in Tampa. Griese brings a different style than Garcia, but the results should still be positive if the rest of the offense takes care of business.
"They're different quarterbacks," Gruden said. "We all have to agree that no two guys are the same at any position. [Jeremy] Zuttah is putting his spin on right guard, [Jeff] Faine is putting his at center, Antonio [Bryant] is doing different things at flanker. But it'll be different. It's never the same.
"Forget about everything else — the guy has played well here for us since he's been a Buccaneer. That goes for â€˜04 and '05 and if you've seen him this year in '08, he looks pretty darn good. We're going to let him play and try to do the things that he likes to do. If we can protect him, convert some third downs and play to our capabilities, I'm confident he'll play well."
In addition, Gruden feels Griese has done an excellent job of re-absorbing the Buccaneers' offense during the offseason and early part of the regular season. Considering his previous time spent in the system, there were only minor differences Griese had to get accustomed to.
"Anytime you're outside the terminology for a couple years, there's subtle changes that we've made," Gruden said. "Our personnel has changed since he left, so we accentuated different areas and different schemes. But he's a quick study and I think he's proved it to everybody. You've seen him practice in camp and during OTAs. He's been here every day and worked hard and got a lot done for us."
Now it will be Griese's turn to put the key in the ignition and get the Bucs' offense in motion.
With Sunday's contest against the Falcons looming, Gruden was still unable to shed any more light on veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks' quest to continue his consecutive-games played streak.
"No, he did not [practice]," Gruden said. "His status is still questionable for the game. We would like him to practice but we've been through this before. We'll give him every [chance] to get ready and play and we'll make that determination Sunday at the stadium."
The situation with Brooks remains unclear, but Gruden said if his veteran leader is unable to go, some other players will have an excellent chance to prove just how deep the Bucs are at linebacker.
"We're going to have to prove we can [replace Brooks]," said Gruden. "We're sitting here saying we can do that, but we've never had to do it. Unlike some of the other positions — you look at the quarterback position, the center position, the wide receiver position — there have been guys in and out of here year after year after year.
"If we have to play another weakside linebacker, we'll have to prove that we can do it. That doesn't mean it's going to be Cato [June], it might be somebody else. But until you really go through it and prove to yourselves and prove to everybody that you can withstand an injury of this magnitude, there are going to be people that doubt you. But we do have some capable guys, guys that have worked hard and that we think can deliver for us. We've just got to prove it."
Gruden said the coaching staff has worked on some contingency plans at Brooks' spot in case he is unable to play, but he wasn't ready to reveal them just yet.
"Yeah, [we have] pretty much [decided on it]," Gruden said. "But we'll leave that behind closed doors. No disrespect to anybody, but we do have a couple things we've rehearsed in practice. If we have to put those wheels into motion, we will. There's still a chance Derrick plays."
The only other injury update Gruden provided was on wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who continues to improve after suffering a neck strain in New Orleans.
"Yeah, he's practicing, much better today," Gruden said. "We'll have to talk to the doctors and all those things. Any time you get an injury, I always say, above the shoulders, you want to be real careful with it."
Reviewing the Rookie's Returns
The Bucs left the 2008 draft hoping rookie wideout Dexter Jackson could develop into a dangerous return man in the NFL. A punt return touchdown in the preseason finale was a preview of the playmaking ability the Appalachian State product possesses, but his first regular season action was a chance to shine on the biggest of stages.
After studying tape of the Bucs' opener in New Orleans, in which Jackson handled most of the punt and kickoff returns, Gruden had an encouraging review of the speedy rookie. Gruden felt that Jackson improved as the game went on, particularly on kickoff returns, a task he didn't perform in college.
"He sure did [improve]," Gruden said. "The first couple, I was like, â€˜Hey Dexter, come on man, let's go now.' Maybe he got mad at me and then he slammed it up in there pretty good. He's new at it to a degree, although he's had some experience here in the preseason.
"But there's nothing like your first NFL game when you hear 11 guys calling your name out wearing different colored jerseys. I think he's going to be okay. I think he's got a chance to be dynamic, and I think he proved that towards the third quarter and second half of that game."
Jackson was steady on his three kickoff returns, picking up 24, 33 and 27 yards for a fine 28.0-yard average. On punts, he started off slowly, picking up four, six, eight and zero yards, respectively, on his first four returns. But Jackson saved the best for last, picking up 14 yards on his last punt return of the day to set the Bucs up near midfield for their ultimately-fruitless final drive.
In addition to the positive review on his returns, Gruden is also hopeful that Jackson can eventually make an impact at wide receiver as well.
"He got in one play [at receiver] last week," Gruden said. "If we can continue to see progress, we're hoping he steps up and becomes a guy in situations for us this year. That's why we took him."
More from Coach Gruden
After seeing very little action during training camp and the preseason, veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway made his much-anticipated debut in New Orleans.
It was a solid effort — six receptions for a team-high 56 yards — but Galloway is certainly capable of much bigger numbers. If this week of practice was any indication, according to Gruden, Galloway may be ready to build on his Week One totals.
"Yeah, I did see improvement in Galloway," Gruden said. "He practiced good. I saw improvement. We need him to deliver big time for us. He's a guy that's capable of doing it. If you're a great player you've got to play great in this league, and he knows that. We need him."
Here are a few other topics Gruden touched on after Friday's practice:
On what pleased him about Friday's practice: "I was pleased with the execution and the energy. That's good enough. I was impressed with it, it was a lively atmosphere and I think we're ready to go. We're going to have to play well to win."
On how big it was to score a defensive touchdown in New Orleans: "It was big, it was huge. It was a momentum game. Obviously their opening possession was quite impressive. They got a commanding seven points out of the drive. We didn't convert on our first two third downs and momentum was swaying against us, then bam — you get a big play like that. But that's what the great defenses do. They not only stop you, but they create turnovers and the historic defenses, the ones that win championships and Super Bowls, they're pretty good on offense to. That was a timely play. We needed it."
On Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan: "He's got great talent. When you only have to throw it 16 times because you're burning it with [Michael] Turner or you're flooring it with [Jerious] Norwood — I use rhymes so I can make myself clear to these guys — it's a fun game to play as a quarterback. He was able to do that. Big runs — 20 yards, 40 yards, explosive runs. You throw it 16 times, and a lot of the time there's an eight-man front or single coverage out there or the play action pass because of the success running the ball, you're able to have a lot of fun. He's a great talent, we all know that. He's going to have a tremendous future in the NFL. He's got an unbelievable pedigree and [Falcons offensive coordinator] Mike Mularkey is a great coach. Right now, they've got it going on on offense."
On the Falcons not being the same team as last year: "We're not used to playing Atlanta when they can't run the ball. They led the NFL in rushing forever. Michael Vick — hell, he had 1,000 yards rushing. They had a franchise record against us running the ball. So we're not totally foreigners in terms of their ability to run the football. We've got a lot of respect for them and last week's tape was against a front we recognize. I know the guys running that defense, so it wasn't like we weren't impressed. We were very impressed."