QB Bruce Gradkowski had a sizzling preseason
Faced with the unfortunate reality of losing starting quarterback Chris Simms for an indefinite amount of time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rallying around rookie Bruce Gradkowski, who was named the starting quarterback by Head Coach Jon Gruden on Monday.
The Bucs have confidence in their precocious sixth-rounder out of Toledo, but his promotion is one of necessity. It comes a day after Simms had surgery to remove a ruptured spleen, an injury he suffered during Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
"Bruce Gradkowski becomes our starter," Gruden said. "Tim Rattay will become the backup, and Luke McCown, who is on the PUP right now, will be pressed into service when he's able to return, eligibility-wise. We might be looking for a third quarterback, and we'll have some guys in here this week to look at."
Gradkowski, a mobile quarterback who threw 29 touchdown passes in his senior year at Toledo, became the first quarterback in Division I-A history to complete more than 70 percent of his passes in consecutive seasons in 2004 and 2005. He caught the eye of Buccaneers coaches and fans alike with a torrid preseason in which he finished the four-game stretch with a 105.3 quarterback rating and a 73.8 completion percentage.
His latest assignment will be a bit more difficult. The Bucs are 0-3 after Sunday's last-second loss to the Panthers and need to put together a winning streak quickly in order to remain in the playoff hunt.
"It's a tough situation," Gradkowski said. "You never want to be named the starter in this [type of] situation, but things happen. My prayers are with Chris, and he's definitely one who is going to help me out. I know that for sure. I just have to take it and go with it and just work hard. We're in a tough position right now, but we're just going to work hard, and we're going to move forward and just keep working and make things happen."
That work started Monday as Gradkowski and the Buccaneers began preparing for the New Orleans Saints, who they will play in the Louisiana Superdome October 8 after coming off a bye this weekend. The extra time, courtesy of the Week Four bye, is something Gruden believes will be beneficial to the rookie quarterback.
"[The bye week] will help; it will help Bruce," Gruden said. "I think it will help Bruce get a lot of the jitters out of the way. When you walk into the huddle, you walk into the locker room, you walk into this building with the football team as the starting quarterback, there's a transition period, and his role has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours. We've all got to rally around him, and I know we will."
If the sudden role change has formed a lump in Gradkowski's throat, it's not showing. In fact, the rookie appears to be handling the change in stride – a peace of mind he says comes from knowing he will be surrounded by playmakers when he takes the field in New Orleans.
"We just need to prepare like we've been preparing and come out and make plays," Gradkowski said. "Just really keep doing what we're doing and things will fall into place. I'm just going to bring energy out there on the field and just do my thing. I'm going to take things as they come and make smart decisions and rely on the guys around me. I'm a rookie, but I'm going to play my game. There are great athletes on this team, great weapons – Cadillac, all the receivers who have been doing a great job. So we're going to get things rolling.
"This is definitely a challenge, but I love it. I've loved it since day one. I love being in this system. I'm around a great group of coaches, a great group of players in this organization. There's not really too much pressure on me. I have guys around me, and that's what this game is about. It's a team game, so it's not really individualized. As long as we come out here and play hard, we'll get things rolling."
As confident as he is in Gradkowski, Gruden did acknowledge the need for the team to acquire a veteran quarterback – most likely to serve in a backup capacity – since the Buccaneers now only have two quarterbacks capable of taking a snap in a game.
"We're going to look into everybody's situation, and we're going to obviously be in the market for a quarterback," Gruden said. "It's the second year in a row at the bye week that we've lost our starting quarterback. I've never heard of that in the history of football. You don't like to do that – you don't like to be in the market for a quarterback early in the season or at any point in the season.
"We'll see who's available. It could be via trade. It could be a guy who is out there at this time. It could be someone on someone else's practice squad. It could be a number of issues. We just have to see who's available, who we can get and what we're willing to pay."
The Buccaneers' sudden quarterback search is largely due to the fact that quarterback Luke McCown is currently on the physically unable to perform list and not eligible to return for another three to four weeks. McCown suffered a knee injury during a practice in June and has since been rehabbing. His recovery, Gruden noted, is on track.
"He's making good physical progress." Gruden said. "I think he's going to be ready to go when he's eligible to return to the roster. It's unfortunate – he missed a lot of work, an entire training camp. He's going to miss the first six to seven weeks of the regular season. He's another young, athletic quarterback, but I do believe physically he'll be ready to go. He's been in our meeting room, and you just look forward to giving these guys some snaps, giving them some reps."
McCown confirmed that he's making strides, both figuratively and literally.
"I can run," McCown said. "I'm running straight ahead. I've actually started doing cuts – it'll be my second week. I've been doing angular cuts. I'm planting on it pretty good and changing directions. It feels good. Again, I'm only going at maybe 50 percent when I'm doing that. I'm just kind of getting a feel for how my body adjusts to that and the stabilization as far as how it feels when I make the cuts. It's getting better. Every day that I have an on-the-field workout, whether it be running hundreds or whatever, I always take time and get some receivers and just throw it to stationary targets. I do some three and five and seven-step drops and go through plays in my mind. I try and get prepared that way."
For now, the bottom line remains that Gradkowski is the team's starter, Rattay is the backup, and the Bucs are in search of a third quarterback.
"We're going to go with the best quarterback we have, and we're going to try to win every one of these games," Gruden said. "We're not going to do anything else. We're going to go with the best quarterback who we feel we have on our roster, and right now it's Gradkowski. We expect him to play well and help us win this next game."