QB Brian Griese has impressed the coaching staff with his quick absorption of the Bucs' system
While it's true that quite a bit of attention has been paid to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback position in recent days, very little of it has involved actual Buccaneer quarterbacks doing actual quarterback things.
Following another three-day set of productive 'organized team activity' (OTA) workouts this week, Head Coach Jon Gruden sought to put the focus back on the men currently flinging footballs in the Bucs' backyard. Even while swirling internet rumors lead to nowhere, starter Brad Johnson, promising second-year man Chris Simms and new Buc veterans Brian Griese and Jason Garrett are busy making rapid offseason progress in Tampa Bay's system.
"Simms has been outstanding – throwing the ball on time, making the key decisions," said Gruden. "And Griese's one of the quickest studies I've ever seen. These two guys have done a phenomenal job, and Brad's been very consistent and steady in his play. Not to mention Jason Garrett. He's given us a lot of inside feedback because of his experience. I'm really excited about our quarterbacks."
Persistent talk had the Bucs taking a seat on a potential quarterback carousel kicked into motion by the post-draft release of former New York Giants passer Kerry Collins, and that prompted General Manager Bruce Allen to publicly back Johnson and company earlier in the week. That helped keep the team's internal focus on what was taking place out behind One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
"Bruce came out and let our quarterback know, and let our football team know, that we're working hard with the guys we currently have and we're excited about all of them," said Gruden.
For good reason.
Johnson is the known commodity…in a good way. Last year he became just the third NFL quarterback ever to complete at least 60% of his passes for the eighth straight season, joining Joe Montana and Steve Young. He also threw for the most yards and touchdown passes in a single season in Buccaneer history and has, over the course of three years in Tampa Bay pewter, completely rewritten the team's passing record book.
Johnson's approach to his seasonal preparation never changes no matter who else his team has on the quarterback depth chart. He's unflinchingly confident in his abilities, and the team is, too.
Still, it's encouraging to Gruden to see so much talent on that depth chart. Simms, a third-round pick in 2003 who was inactive for all 16 games last season, has done nothing but impress since arriving last year and is apparently making great strides again this offseason. While Johnson is the starter, Gruden prefers to think not of how the depth chart will fall out this year but how Simms will impact the team's future.
"We didn't draft him to be the number-two or the number-three," said the coach with whom seemingly ever quarterback wants to work. "We drafted him because we thought at some point he could become a starter, and hopefully a great player. We think he can be a hell of a lot more than a number-two. The way he's throwing the ball and the way he's feeling it right now is very encouraging for all of us here, because he's young, he's athletic and he's got a gun. I mean, he's got a Howitzer, man. He can really throw the ball. He's got a charismatic style that players play for. He's got a lot of upside."
Griese, of course, has already displayed his upside, most notably during his first two years as a starter (1999-2000) in Denver. The Broncos eventually released Griese after the 2002 season and the Dolphins hung onto him for just one season, but Gruden can already understand how the former Michigan star was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000.
"You can see why Denver gave him a humongous contract," said Gruden. "This guy's accurate. He's a guy who once he sees it, he's got it. He doesn't require a lot of reps. You can't give the guy enough football."
Gruden will try, of course. The Bucs have five more OTA days in early to mid-June, plus a mandatory mini-camp later in the month. The team will head to training camp in late July with its quarterback position perhaps as strong as its ever been. The roster includes two passers who have played in recent Pro Bowls (Johnson, Griese) and another who has almost 15 years of NFL experience and a handful of Super Bowl rings (Garrett). There is all of that, plus an apparent 'quarterback of the future,' a young man with all of the physical tools and an opportunity to learn the position at a slow, steady pace – something few Buccaneer QB prospects have had in the past.
It's no wonder Gruden is excited about the Buccaneers' quarterbacks … the ones right before his eyes.
WR Joe Jurevicius has attended most of the team's organized workouts this spring but has yet to fully participate in a practice. During the most recent week of OTA days, Jurevicius was not at One Buccaneer Place, however. Gruden explained that the seventh-year receiver was in another location receiving a new set of treatments on his rehabilitating right knee.
"He was here in our meetings all last week," said Gruden. "He took off this week because (Head Trainer) Todd Toriscelli has organized some stuff with another trainer-physician committee."
Jurevicius injured his knee in the second game last season. Though he made a brief comeback after seven weeks on the inactive list, he was not fully recovered and eventually landed on injured reserve. Jurevicius has worked hard this season to overcome the injury, and his latest treatments could push him over the top.
"He's getting close," said Gruden. "The conversation we had last night with his people said it's gone very well."