QB Brian Griese says he never wanted to leave Tampa in the first place
Jon Gruden had just one question for Brian Griese when he called the veteran quarterback into his office on Tuesday.
Can you be ready to go on Sunday?
Griese was thrilled by the unexpected question from his head coach. He started the 2008 season as the backup to Jeff Garcia, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback since the beginning of 2007. However hopeful he was that his return to Tampa could lead to another opportunity to start, he couldn't possibly have expected it to arrive so soon.
"Honestly, I loved being here the first time I was here," said Griese, the Bucs' starter from October of 2004 to the same month the following year. "Everything from being in this system, to being around the guys, to being around the people in this organization, to being in this town, I really loved every part of that. I am just excited and thankful that I am back in this position because a lot of times you don't get back. Trust me when I say that I won't take that for granted."
Griese, who missed the last 10 games of the 2005 season with a knee injury, left for Chicago the following March after the Bucs released him in a cap-related move. At the time, the Bucs were set to commit to Chris Simms, who finished the 2005 division-winning campaign after Griese's injury, as their starter in 2006.
Simms suffered a dramatic spleen injury three games into the '06 season and the Buccaneers struggled through the rest of a 4-12 campaign with game rookie Bruce Gradkowski at the helm. Before the 2007 season, the team signed Garcia and immediately installed him as the starter, with Simms ending up on injured reserve. Garcia put together a Pro Bowl season and helped lead the Bucs back to the top of the NFC South.
Meanwhile, Griese was part of an unsatisfying quarterback carousel in Chicago. He returned to the Buccaneers in a trade in March but, given Garcia's 2007 success, appeared to be most involved in a battle with Luke McCown for the primary backup spot.
That all changed on Tuesday, at least for the time being. Gruden informed both quarterbacks that he was giving Griese the nod over Garcia, feeling that the latter passer needed time to get back on top of his game.
"I just believe right now that what we're seeing is not what Jeff Garcia's capable of doing," said Gruden. "That doesn't mean he won't be back here soon. But I do believe the best thing to do is go with Brian Griese, and that's what we're doing."
Griese listened to Gruden's question and answered with an emphatic yes. He had taken hold of the Bucs' starting job with a stellar final 10 games of 2004 – he posted a team-record 97.5 passer rating – and had led the Bucs to a 5-1 start in '05 before he was hurt. At the time, he thought big things could be ahead.
"When I left here in 2005 I really had unfinished business the way I look at it," he said. "It really hurt when I was injured and didn't have a chance to come back. I knew we had a good team and that stung. Ever since that point I wanted the opportunity to come back and finish that business and that is how I am going to approach this, as a continuation of what I started and hopefully go out and play the best football that I can play."
How long will it last? Gruden said repeatedly that he still has confidence in Garcia and expects him to return to form. Griese's return to the starting lineup could conceivably just be for one game, or it could be longer.
Griese is focusing on the certainty of the situation rather than the uncertainty. He knows he's starting on Sunday and he knows it's a critical game.
"I look at it as we are 0-1 and we didn't play as well as we could have played last week, at all positions," he said. "I look at it as an opportunity to go out and get this thing back on track. It is just one game but I think this is a big game for us. To think about anything other than that really wouldn't do it justice, to be honest."
Because of that situation, Griese knows he can't ease his way back into the action. It's exciting when the coach calls you in and tells you that you're starting, but isn't it a bit unnerving, too? In five days you're taking up the reins of a team for which you haven't started in nearly three years…surely that's a daunting challenge, right?
Actually, Griese said its more challenging to play the reserve role properly.
"The hardest thing that I have ever had to do is to be in that backup position and to prepare like you are going to be out there playing in the game," he said. "There is a lot that goes into it, a lot of sacrifice during the week, you are away from your family, you are spending time in a dark room watching film and studying. Then on Sunday, all that work that you put in, you don't have an opportunity to go out there and take the test. You are not guaranteed that and that is a very tough thing to go through mentally."
Like all dedicated backups, Griese made those sacrifices, knowing he couldn't afford to be unprepared if the call did come that Sunday. This week, however, he's taking reps in practice knowing that they will pay real dividends on game day. It's doubly exciting for Griese – even if the long-term future is uncertain – because he's right back in the spot he wished he had never left.
And, according to Gruden, he's better equipped to excel than he was three years ago.
"Brian did a lot here, if you consider all the elements," said Gruden. "He didn't have this offensive line when he played. He did not have some of the weapons, I think, that we possess now. Statistically, and from a functional standpoint, he did some great things here and won a lot of games for us. His won-loss record was quite impressive. Like I said, he's a guy that will lead us this Sunday and we've got to rally around him."