QB Jeff Garcia appears to be regaining the form that made him a Pro Bowl pick in 2007
Jeff Garcia took most of the starting repetitions at quarterback on the practice field on Wednesday. Does that mean he's likely to be the starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers?
Not necessarily. A much more solid indicator than Garcia's practice-field participation will be the status of fellow quarterback Brian Griese's elbow. The Buccaneers likely won't make a final determination on their starter until later in the week, but the decision could be made by default if Griese is unable to recover before the weekend.
"If you can't throw you have a hard time playing," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after Wednesday's practice. "I don't want to make any concrete statements until we get a chance to meet and see how Brian is and see how Jeff feels and the whole crew at quarterback."
Griese sustained elbow and shoulder injuries on Sunday in Denver when he was hit by blitzing cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey's helmet smashed directly into Griese's elbow as Griese was throwing, which not only led to swelling at that spot but also jammed his arm back, thus hurting his shoulder.
Garcia relieved Griese for the last quarter and a half of the Bucs' 16-13 loss in Denver and completed 13 of 17 passes for 93 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He led a 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and generally looked mobile, decisive and accurate. Garcia, a Pro Bowler for the Bucs last year, had started the season-opening loss at New Orleans but was swapped for Griese before Game Two. At the time, Gruden felt that Garcia was not performing up to his usual standards, but believed the veteran passer could regain his form in the subsequent weeks on the practice field.
If the Bucs do need Garcia this week, it appears as if they'll be getting a player more like the one who dominated at times in 2007. In particular, Garcia looks more comfortable in the pocket and more mobile when flushed out by pressure.
"I think he is coming back and that's a good sign," said Gruden. "If you're Jeff Garcia and you play the way he does, mobility and creative playmaking is a big part of his style. I think he looks much better in the pocket, and that's his game."
Garcia intends to work as if he's the starter this week, even though he may not get the call until later in the week, or perhaps not at all. No matter how the week pans out, Garcia is enjoying the opportunity to take additional snaps with the starting unit.
"I think a lot depends on how well Brian [Griese] recovers and how he feels throughout the week," said Garcia. "I think that's a good step for me as far as getting re-acclimated with the system and with what we're doing and with the guys on the field and just trying to do whatever I can do to help this team.
"I can't wait to see what Coach decides; I have to prepare as if I'm going to be going this Sunday, and take advantage of the reps I do get this week."
Garcia didn't do anything to hurt his cause on the practice field on Wednesday, though the Bucs did modify their usual workout to a slower-paced walk-through without helmets or pads.
"I think he did well today," said Gruden. "We have a number of players that weren't able to participate; others were limited. But I thought he did a good job and I was really encouraged by seeing him back."
The Buccaneers went 3-1 with Griese at the helm over the last four weeks and obviously still have supreme confidence in the 11th-year passer. Before he was injured, Griese had looked sharp in Denver, too, completing 13 of 19 for 88 yards. But if he can't go, Garcia feels ready to step back in.
"For me, it's an exciting time because I feel like there's an opportunity that might be presented there," he said. "I just want to be able to get back in and be the guy that I was for this team last year, the guy that I feel I'm capable of being. If I'm given that opportunity than hopefully I can run with it and make the most out of it."