Starter Shaun King operates in the Bucs' new system with coach Clyde Christensen looking on
As a group, they've combined for just 19 National Football League starts. However, as a group they've also notched an NFC Championship Game appearance, led their NFL teams to at least seven come-from-behind victories and displayed a startling breadth of throwing and running talents at various levels of competition.
They are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks – Shaun King, Eric Zeier, Scott Milanovich and Joe Hamilton – and they are an intriguing bunch. In the second of a series of position-specific profiles, Buccaneers.com got the rundown on the team's field generals from Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen on Tuesday. Buccaneers.com will meet with each of the team's position coaches between now and July 23 to get, in the coaches' own words, a feel for what fans can expect to see when training camp opens that Sunday.
With only four players to consider, Buccaneer fans probably have a fairly good handle on who the characters are, even if the plot is still to be ironed out. King is the brash, second-year player who made a huge impact as a rookie, starting the last five games and both playoff contests in the Bucs' run to the NFC Championship Game. He engineered several comeback victories in December as the team successfully hunted the NFC Central title. Hamilton is this year's King, a decorated college player at Georgia Tech who excelled with both his arms and his legs but fell in the draft due to his less-than-ideal height. In between are Zeier, who showed a comeback touch and fine accuracy for the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens in four seasons (1995-98) of on-again, off-again starting duty, and Scott Milanovich, who recently completed a successful stint in the NFL Europe League after three-plus seasons as the Bucs' number-three hurler.
Christensen went down this stable of quarterbacks in alphabetical order, starting with the electrifying rookie and ending with team's most experienced veteran.
Joe Hamilton: "Joe Hamilton, we're pleased with. He's a very fast learner, a fine leader, and a real productive guy. He picked up the (new offensive) system extremely quickly. He'll go into training camp and compete for that third spot with Milanovich. We're high on Joe Hamilton and we're looking forward to watching him. You look at his size (5-10, 190 pounds) and you have people get worried, but then everything you give him to do he produces at."
Christensen compared Hamilton and Shaun King, both productive runners in college. "Joe's more of an athlete, more of a runner, he makes more plays with his feet. When Shaun came out, we felt he was a passer who could run at times but really didn't make a ton of plays with his feet. He's not going to give you a bunch of plays with his feet, he's going to be solid in there but he's going to have to throw the ball. I think Joe will give you some plays with his feet, and I think that will have to be one of his assets. He doesn't have as good of an arm as Shaun, but he absolutely will make more plays running and scrambling out of trouble.
"I think you'll see a little bit of 'organized disorder', so to speak. He'll be fun to watch."
Shaun King: "Shaun's had a great offseason. He's been here a bunch and worked hard. He's worked hard to get into shape. He's getting his first full run at being a starter, where you prepare all offseason. He's picked up the system pretty well and gotten himself into really good shape. He's throwing the ball well.
"I think he's excited about being the starter for 16 games. We'll continue to get him as much experience in the preseason as is possible. He needs reps, he needs snaps, so we'll play him longer than your average starter (during the preseason). He still is an inexperienced guy, but the great thing about him is that he already has some great experience in key games and huge situations. We're really pleased with him and think he's going to be a real fine player for us."
Christensen was pleased with the progress King has made under Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel's new. "We threw a lot at them. We knew it wouldn't look real good. I think we'll throw it back at them again in training camp and then it will really start coming together. There were moments (in mini-camp and during voluntary workouts) when it looked good, but even the last day (of voluntary workouts), we still weren't completely comfortable with what we were doing. I think that's the case with Shaun, as well. He's where we expected him to be.
"We have a little more offseason left, then training camp, and hopefully we'll be comfortable when those preseason games are ready to roll. He's right where we thought he would be, which isn't ready to play yet. But I don't think anybody is ready offensively yet, including the coaching staff. I think we're all on that learning curve right now, except Coach Steckel, who obviously knows it. I think we're where we should be, where we have to be, but we have to cover quite a bit more distance in training camp and start fine-tuning it.
Scott Milanovich: "Scott's a guy who we've liked but he just hasn't gotten a break and had a chance to play. He got taken in that expansion draft; he was the 'three' for three-and-a-half years (for the Buccaneers) and Trent never got hurt. The one year he got taken in that expansion draft, we get to our third. So he just hasn't gotten a chance to play. We sent him over to Europe and that filled what we hoped it would. He got back into the game. It's been four years since he's really played, so we got him into some ballgames and got him knocked around a little bit. He got some experience and he'll compete hard for that third spot. We like Scott, but we don't have any tests of what he can do. We've taught, taught, taught, and you need a test to see how far they've come. That's hard to get at the quarterback position."
Milanovich just finished his stint with the Berlin Thunder in the NFL Europe League, where he took over as the starter midway through the season. He gained valuable playing experience but also missed an offseason of absorbing the new attack. "He's got a lot to learn. He's going to be behind mentally and tired physically, but he's got to have a great camp. He'll learn quickly, so we're high on him."
Eric Zeier: "Eric is back healthy and we're pleased with him. He's similar to Shaun in that he's where we expected him to be, which isn't far enough yet, but at this point is where we need to be with him. The biggest thing for him was to get his health back. He's got to stay healthy. Who knows what would have happened (in 1999 when he was named the starter at midseason)? He got a shot and played okay in the Detroit game. He put up some numbers, but then got hurt, so the verdict is still out. He needs a good stretch of playing time to show what he can do. But we're pleased with the way he's picking up the offense.
"He's a great worker and a good leader. I like our whole group as far as leadership goes. People like them and respond to them. They're working hard. Eric Zeier will always be in your top five percent of 'work' guys, which is a great characteristic to have."
Even with Milanovich overseas and the three quarterbacks on hand trying to swallow a new playbook, Christensen has been happy with what he has seen. In his second year as Quarterbacks Coach after spending his first three seasons in Tampa Bay tutoring the tight ends, Christensen has been charged with molding a unit out of some only partially proven parts, but he is confident that will be accomplished.
"The position as a whole, I'm pleased with where we are," he said. "I like what we're going to camp with, though we're a little unproven. There' s not a guy on the roster who is proven at what we're asking him to do. We don't have a proven starter, we don't have a proven backup, we don't have a proven third, so we should have a hungry bunch of guys who have a lot to show and a lot to prove. They're willing to learn, they're willing to work. I look our group, I like our talent and I think we'll get there."