QB Luke McCown will get the start on Sunday against the Dolphins, who will be led by his older brother, Josh McCown
Josh McCown will start the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason opener at Miami on Saturday. Jeff Garcia won't play against the Dolphins, and might not even be in town for the game.
Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden revealed those details about the team's passer rotation on Wednesday morning during a post-practice press briefing that focused almost exclusively on another quarterback.
The continued uncertainty surrounding the eventual landing place for Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre dominated the post-practice talk on Wednesday but Gruden declined to add to the speculation. Instead, he provided updates on the Bucs' own QBs, including the one who will take the first snap of the new season.
McCown, a fifth-year veteran who started three games for Tampa Bay late last season, gets the call, setting up an interesting matchup for the beginning of Saturday's game. Starting for the Dolphins will be the Buc passer's older brother, Josh McCown.
"I think the last time two brothers went head-to-head it was The Manning Show," said Gruden. "We're going to have The McCown Show, so we're going to make sure the McCown family has all the seats that I'm allotted on a road trip."
McCown could play longer than the typical stint for a starting quarterback in the preseason opener, precisely because he's not actually the first player on the Bucs' depth chart. That would be Garcia, who hasn't practiced since suffering a calf strain last Thursday. Garcia likely will stay in Tampa over the weekend in order to receive more treatment on his leg; the team is hoping he will return to the practice field in the next few days.
"I think he's coming around. He's getting better," said Gruden of his starter. "You see him walking around. I think he'll resume throwing now and he'll get into some light individual work, I hope. There's a chance we might keep him in Tampa over the weekend, he and a couple others, to get back to our facility in Tampa where he can get some more specialized treatment and speed the recovery."
Thus, McCown may stay in the huddle even after many of the team's other starters depart in the first quarter, as is the usual pattern in a preseason opener. He will gave way to 11th-year veteran Brian Griese, a former Dolphin, and the Bucs may end up playing four different passers on Saturday.
"We're going to let Luke start and we'll take a look at Brian, obviously," said Gruden. "We want Chris Simms to play; he needs to get some game action. And our young guy is a work in progress; we'll try to get him some, too."
Simms played very, very briefly during the 2007 preseason, attempting just one pass. Otherwise, he has seen no live game action since he suffered a frightening injury three weeks into the 2006 season that led to the emergency removal of his spleen. Simms discovered during training camp in '06 that he was not fully recovered from his injury, but he now feels healthy and ready to resume his playing days. Gruden would like to see that occur, as well. How much Simms plays on Saturday will depend on how the game unfolds.
"I'd really like to see Chris play and get comfortable," said Gruden. "He's going to have some rough times, I'm sure, because he hasn't played. Inactivity is a hard thing on a quarterback, so we'll try to get him some looks, hopefully have some sustained drives and some success with him in there. He'll have a lot to do with how much he gets to play."
The Bucs would prefer to have Garcia in Miami rather than Tampa over the weekend, even if it was only for a handful of snaps. However, Gruden knows there are plenty of ways to make use of those reps that would have gone to his starter.
"You've got to look at it optimistically and say, 'You know what? Brian Griese's done some really good things. And Luke McCown needs this and it's going to help him,'" said Gruden. "This is training camp and you've got to get 80 guys ready to play. We've got to go out there and not look at our scheme in Miami. We've got to look at our personnel. We've got to keep the right 53 guys."
Bucs Give Neal a Workout
In 1998, the Buccaneers rushed for 134.3 yards per game, the second-best average in team history and good for fourth in the NFL that season. Tampa Bay's ground game had never ranked that high in the league before 1998 and hasn't come close to matching that mark since.
The Bucs' rushing attack in 1998 featured the Thunder & Lightning combo of Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, but there was a third back who figured prominently in the team's success even though he notched only five carries on the season.
That third man was fullback Lorenzo Neal, who would spend only one season in Tampa but the better part of a decade establishing himself as the NFL's premier blocking back. After leaving the Buccaneers, he spent two seasons in Tennessee, two in Cincinnati and five in San Diego, probably his most high-profile stop. Neal earned four Pro Bowl berths in the process, and seemingly everywhere he went a power running game followed.
The Bucs could have two-thirds of the 1998 backfield back together again if they choose to re-sign Neal, who was in camp on Wednesday morning for a workout with the team's personnel men. Alstott has retired but Dunn just returned to Tampa after six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Gruden discussed Neal's workout after practice on Wednesday but didn't reveal if the Bucs planned to sign the veteran back.
"He had a good workout, he was impressive, he took a physical," said Gruden. "When you're a two-back football team, the fullback is a critical member of the unit. Lorenzo Neal, he is a Pro Bowl fullback that we want to look at and we're just doing our due diligence."
Gruden said Neal's visit was not related to the foot injury that has kept Askew out of practice for several days. The Bucs expect Askew back in practice soon, but still wanted to see how Neal might fit in.
"We feel like we've got a really good fullback here in Askew," said Gruden. "And Byron Storer's really done well in [Askew's] absence. But Lorenzo Neal is special. I don't know anybody who doesn't respect him as a physical presence and a team guy. I know the tailbacks smiled from ear to ear when they saw him walking into the building. Some of the linebackers were like, 'I don't know about this.' Pro Bowl fullback and Pro Bowl character, and we want to look at him because he's available."
With the first game of 2008 just three days away, Gruden was encouraged by the team's work on the practice field Wednesday morning. The first few days of the work week had been characterized by up-and-down efforts, with issues such as fumbled snaps and interceptions occasionally marring the action.
Gruden could think of only one turnover that occurred Wednesday morning, and even that was reason to smile. Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib flashed his enormous potential with an acrobatic interception in the right corner of the end zone on an attempted fade pass during the red zone drill.
"I just liked the way we played today on both sides of the ball. I think we were turnover-free — that's a key winning edge for us — other than Aqib Talib, who made a spectacular play in the end zone," said Gruden. "We put them in some different situations in the red zone, tight red zone areas. We got off the field, we moved the ball and I thought our guys did a pretty good job in terms of their assignments."
The upcoming preseason games, beginning with Saturday's trip to Miami, will reveal whether or not such strong practices are a true sign of success to come. But for now, Gruden feels confident.
"I like our practice," he said. "I like our football team right now. We have a ways to go."