Once the No. 3 QB, Brian Griese is forcing the Bucs to consider his future in Tampa.
TAMPA - Before Brian Griese passed the Bucs to their only two victories in his first three games, he was passed over by his own team. Twice.
On both occasions, Tampa Bay went with 24-year-old Chris Simms, who had never taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game.
Simms replaced struggling veteran Brad Johnson after 15 plays in the Bucs' 10-6 loss to Seattle. Three weeks later, Simms was chosen to start against New Orleans and played well before a left shoulder injury finally got Griese off the bench.
Now it looks as if Griese, 29, is the quarterback who will be hard to unseat.
After completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 643 yards and four touchdowns, Griese is headed for paydirt.
Assuming his performance doesn't taper off, the Bucs will undoubtedly pay Griese a $6-million roster bonus due in March, which, combined with his $2-million salary for '05, would give him starter's money. A $7-million bonus would be due in '06.
"I've been around seven years now in the National Football League. I've seen a lot of things and I understood the situation, more or less," Griese said. "I understood they wanted to get a look at Chris, and you know, I don't fault them for that.
"I think Chris can be a heck of a player. He just needs an opportunity. But, you know, selfishly I would've liked to have been out there. But there's really nothing I could've done about it. I really took the attitude that I wanted to continue to learn the offense and if I did get my opportunity, be ready."
He certainly was. If Griese had enough attempts to qualify, he would rank second in the NFL behind the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper in completion percentage and third in the league behind Culpepper, the Eagles' Donovan McNabb and the Colts Peyton Manning with a 104.9 passer rating.
Yet, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen still is noncommittal when asked where both quarterbacks will fall on the depth chart next season.
"First, you'd have to give me all the scenarios in Game 16," Allen said. "You know what you have, but you have to play out the season and see what occurs.
"You know the great thing about the two of them, for us, they're both sons of great NFL quarterbacks. They've seen everything happen in this league. Phil Simms gets hurt, Jeff Hostetler wins the Super Bowl. They've seen the NFL the way it works. You don't have to explain anything to them. But Brian is playing tremendous right now. Everyone acknowledges it and everyone is rooting for it to continue."
There are many reasons for Griese's success. Running back Michael Pittman has returned from a three-game suspension, rookie Michael Clayton has emerged as an elite receiver and Kenyatta Walker has solidified the right tackle position.
"I really tried to stay within the offense and when there's plays to be made, I want to make them, whether it's throwing the ball to Kenny (Dilger) down the field for a touchdown or giving Mike Clayton a chance down the field," Griese said. "We've got some playmakers now that might be coming back, with Joey Galloway, so I'll take my shots. But this offense really needs consistency and that's what I've tried to bring to the table.
"I feel comfortable. More importantly, as an offense, we're getting more comfortable. There were some dire straits there in the first month of the season and we didn't do much offensively. We've begun to get a rhythm a little bit, we understand if we work together, we can score at any time, whether it be on a big play or whether it be on a 93-yard drive. We've done both. So that gives us a lot of confidence."
Even though Johnson began the season under center, coach Jon Gruden said he tried to trumpet his other quarterbacks
"I really have felt great about both of those guys, I really have," Gruden said of Griese and Simms. "I tried to say that, but everybody just kind of went, "Yeah, yeah.'
"Griese scared me when I was with the Raiders. He could get hot as hell. I mean, he threw for 70 percent one year with 20 touchdowns and four picks. His accuracy ... he really hasn't had a chance to showcase his true ability because of the way we're rolling our quarterbacks. You don't want to disrupt the development of a young player with talent, also. Then you have a quarterback who wins a Super Bowl one year and sets a record for touchdowns the next year. Then with all the injuries we've had at wide receiver and tight end and running back, it's been hard on whoever it's been. But that's a credit for Brian for hanging in there."
Allen defends the decision to begin the season with Johnson under center and to succeed him with Simms.
"Brad deserved to start at the beginning of the season and coach Gruden was right to do it," Allen said. "If we had started the other guys, I don't know what would've happened.
"From the time I came here, I always saw that blond young man working out every day. He got better and he deserved the chance."
Griese would like the chance to remain in Tampa Bay. Based on his play, he has nothing to worry about.
"I would love to be in Tampa Bay, love the area, I love the city," Griese said. "I think the people are wonderful. My wife and I love living here. I'd love to be here. "But the reality of the league is you really do never know. But I think having that attitude makes you come out and work hard every day and never be satisfied with what you've done."