Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Unfinished Business

The Bucs obviously wanted Joey Galloway back in 2005, and fortunately, Galloway was equally eager to build on his tantalizing finish to the 2004 campaign

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WR Joey Galloway had almost 1,000 yards on the league's 31st-ranked passing attack in 2002

"If you make a mistake, he can hurt you bad."

"He's got great foot-speed. His speed and acceleration are rare."

"He's going to give us something that we can use to creatively probe the defense, maybe generate a big play or two."

"He's blessed with great speed and acceleration and we're going to try to use that as much as we can."

That's a handful of assessments of Joey Galloway by Jon Gruden after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired Galloway's services in a March transaction. You may be wondering, then, why you didn't see any of those quotes in the media coverage of Galloway's re-signing with the Buccaneers on Tuesday. Well, there's a good reason for that.

You see, that was Gruden's reaction after the Bucs traded for the noted speed merchant last year. Before you accuse Buccaneers.com of recycling old quotes, though, let us get straight to the point.

Asked almost weekly about Galloway's progress last offseason and into training camp, Gruden repeated some variation on the above thoughts many times over. It became more and more clear, as Galloway settled quickly into Gruden's scheme and repeatedly impressed on the practice field, that the marriage of a proven deep threat and the Bucs' offense was going to work.

And that's exactly what happened…to a point. Galloway was indeed a potent weapon in Gruden's attack when he was healthy. Unfortunately, a severe groin injury in the regular season opener basically cost Galloway the first half of the season. When he came back, after a few games to get into the flow, Galloway was as dangerous a weapon as the Bucs had. He caught 24 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns over the last five games of the season, several times breaking open well behind the opponents' last line of defense.

That late-season surge, when he and rookie Michael Clayton were one of the most prolific pairs of starters in the NFL, vindicated Gruden's spring expectations but also left Galloway feeling as if he had some unfinished business.

"It was a shortened season," said Galloway, who has averaged over 15 yards per catch during his 10-year career. "I feel like I had some things to accomplish that I didn't get to accomplish. I appreciated everything this organization and team did for me last season, bringing me here from Dallas. I feel like I owe them something and hopefully we can accomplish some big things this year."

There are some perceptions of Galloway that don't necessarily jibe with reality. Because he is so fast and not one of the league's taller receivers, some view him as a one-dimensional sprinter. Gruden, however, frequently referred to Galloway's toughness last year, and it was clear that not all of his big plays have to come on fly patterns.

The contract issues in Seattle that led to his trade in Dallas in 2000 might also lead some to expect a me-first attitude, but Galloway has been a very team-oriented player in his brief time in Tampa. His re-signing with the team when it wasn't overly flushed with cap space indicates a willingness to work within the Bucs' constraints in order to finish what he started.

"I know there was a desire on their side and a desire on my side to get it done," said Galloway of his short stint on the free agency market. "But, sometimes the business doesn't work out. Luckily for me, and hopefully for them, this will work out."

Along with the man who threw those five touchdown passes to him, quarterback Brian Griese, the Bucs had targeted Galloway as a potential loss they very much wanted to avoid. Gruden got to do a little 'creative probing' at opposing defenses with Galloway's skills late last year, but it's likely that it only whetted his appetite.

"We are excited to have Joey back," said Gruden this March. "He's very fast and a very good player. He proved to be a major factor in our offense last year, and we plan to make the most of his big-play abilities."

You probably did see some fresh quotes on Tuesday and Wednesday about Gruden and Galloway exchanging a series of hugs over the issue. Clearly, both men were motivated to continue their professional relationship.

What could Galloway do with an entire season? Does 10 touchdowns seem reasonable? He's done it twice before. One thousand yards? He's done that three times. And while it's true that those milestones were all posted in his first four seasons in the league, he still possesses the speed that made them possible. He was the NFL leader in yards per catch as recently as 2003, when he averaged 19.8 yards on 34 grabs. He still had 908 yards and six touchdowns as recently as 2002, on a Dallas team that ranked 31st in the NFL in passing behind quarterbacks Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter.

And he's in a system run by a coach that very much wants to exploit his skills. Thus all the hugging.

And so Galloway will pursue another offseason of learning in Tampa and, more importantly, 16 games of production in the fall. And Gruden will be asked for more of the same sound bites each week.

Galloway is ready to go.

"He's excited and I'm excited," said Galloway. "We're just looking forward to it. Hopefully in the next couple of months I'll really pick up a little bit and be ready for our first [practice]."

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