QB Brian Griese's successful 2004 season started in March, when he signed in time to get all of the Bucs' offseason QB instruction
Jon Gruden opens quarterback school on March 29. He'd like to see a full classroom.
As he does at the head of each offseason, Gruden will gather all of the quarterbacks on his roster (save, in this case, for Akili Smith, who will be playing in NFL Europe) and give them a crash course on the offense. Returning veteran, free agent signee or wide-eyed rookie, each passer is given a playbook and a front-row seat for several days' worth of film study and memorization.
Three weeks into free agency, however, Gruden's 2005 class still had several seat open. With Smith headed to Europe, Gruden was left with starter Brian Griese and promising third-year man Chris Simms. Both are likely to see big dividends from another trip through QB school, but Gruden would like to spread the instruction around even more.
"Well, we've got two quarterbacks now who we like, Griese and Simms," said the coach. "We're going to take four to camp, maybe five, based on how it goes. It's a lot to learn. I'd like to get guys in here and start teaching them all the stuff there is to learn."
Obviously, then, the Bucs are in the market for another passer or two. While the draft holds very intriguing possibilities at that position, both at the top of the first round, where the Bucs wait with the fifth pick, and in the later rounds, Gruden doesn't necessarily want to wait until late April for some new students.
"We're looking at the availability of players," Gruden confirmed, mentioning such current free agents as Quincy Carter, Doug Flutie and Jeff Blake. "There are not a lot of guys available. [Jeff] Garcia recently signed; Jeff Blake just became available. We have the draft coming up with some interesting prospects in the middle rounds, the top rounds and late in the draft, too."
It's not necessarily easy to settle on the right quarterback to sign, even if you're looking to fill the third slot on your depth chart. The Bucs have had several seasons in recent years in which they needed all three passers at one point or another (1999, 2002 and 2004 are good examples), so it is not a throwaway decision. Plus, Gruden has some specific criteria he looks for, and not all of it can be seen on game tape.
"You've got to look for a guy who not only fits your offense but fits the room, you know?" said Gruden. "Fits your team. You want a guy who can come in and have some intangibles. I think the backup quarterback's got to have some personality, a little juice to him, because he doesn't get a lot of snaps."
That is, until he does. Griese was the third-string quarterback going into the 2004 regular season, and he ended up with the starting job and a handful of Buccaneer passing records. Had the Bucs not inked the former Bronco and Dolphin early enough – in this case, March 19 – he might not have received all the necessary instruction. First and foremost, he would have missed quarterback school.
"I really believe that when we got Griese last year early, all the pre-training camp work we got done helped him go out and play," said Gruden. "I think for another veteran to come in and have the same opportunity Brian had, you've got to get him signed early. You've got to start that process.
"We're working on confirming a couple guys to bring in and look at."
Gruden expounded a bit on Carter because he was asked, but he didn't predict the signing of one particular player or another. He also didn't say the Bucs would stop with one new quarterback. Even though the draft offers some potential in that area, Gruden would rather get a few players in and look at them over the next month to see if they can fit into the system. If it works out, great; if it doesn't, the draft looms.
But, as was made clear with Griese's rapid development last year, there's good reason to believe it can work out. The Bucs are loaded with valuable QB mentors, beginning with Gruden the schoolmaster himself.
"We have, I think, an interesting environment for a quarterback here with [Paul] Hackett coaching the quarterbacks and Doug Williams here," said Gruden. "We've got some people, I think, who can really be a good network for whoever we bring in to develop and manage."