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Not getting veteran QB will haunt front office
By RICK STROUD
Published October 1, 2006
TAMPA - Just before his first NFL preseason game, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski became sick to his stomach on the sideline.
When the Toledo rookie makes his first pro start at New Orleans next week, he might not be the only one with that reaction.
Climbing out of an 0-3 start is daunting enough. Only three teams since 1990 have recovered to make the playoffs.
Trying to ascend Everest with a first-year quarterback is, well, darned near impossible.
So imagine how you feel if you're watching the sand run out of the hourglass on your career like Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber or Brian Kelly.
How did this happen?
The injury to starter Chris Simms was horrific. Not many players have their seasons end with a ruptured spleen.
But it's not news for a quarterback to sustain a season-ending injury. Ask the Jets. They lost two within a span of seven plays last year.
In fact, Gradkowski becomes the sixth quarterback to start for Jon Gruden since 2002. So the Bucs certainly knew there was a chance a quarterback other than Simms might have to lead the offense this season.
What was the plan? After Simms, the Bucs were banking on Luke McCown, Tim Rattay and Jay Fiedler. McCown has four NFL starts, all with the Browns, with a completion percentage of 48.9, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. Rattay is 4-12 as a starter and not good enough to beat out Gradkowski for the No. 2 spot. Fiedler didn't make it out of preseason, failing to return from shoulder surgery
That was the plan? Meanwhile, the Bucs let another division winner, the Bears, sign Brian Griese as the No. 2 quarterback to Rex Grossman. Make no mistake, the Bears love Grossman and he was leading the league in passer rating after two weeks. But Grossman has a history of injuries, and they didn't want to put all their eggs in that basket and drop the basket.
Griese was 5-1 with Tampa Bay before he went down with a season-ending knee injury. He wanted to return to the Bucs and compete with Simms for the starting job. He got $6-million (in salary and bonus) to wait his turn in Chicago.
Last week, general manager Bruce Allen was asked if he was always comfortable with having a rookie back up Simms?
"We don't look at him as a rookie quarterback," Allen said. "We look at him as the right fit, and he earned the job to back up Chris in the offseason."
You wonder how the Saints will view Gradkowski.
Here's a hint: They will consider him a rookie and throw every blitz, every coverage, every disguise they can imagine at him.
This is not to suggest Gradkowski won't make some terrific plays. But he's bound to make plenty of mistakes, too. Just consider all the times the Bucs have pinned their hopes on a rookie making his debut.
Doug Williams, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson and Trent Dilfer lost their first start. Several lost their first two starts.
"I don't really look at it as an individual sport. It's a team sport," Allen said. "What we have to do is play better as a team, and if someone has a bad play, someone has to step up and overcome that mistake. I have confidence in this staff and these players. The determination is there. I'd rather be three games out in Week 4 than three games out in Week 14. There's plenty of time to overcome the hole we've put ourselves in."
Really? That was true last season with the Bears, who won eight straight with rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback. But the Bears could run the football and had the No. 2 defense in the NFL.
The Bucs defense is 32nd - dead last - against the run this season, allowing more than 170 yards per game on the ground.
"Defensively, based on the situation we're in, we haven't played well, either," Brooks said. "And I think that's enough focus for me not to even worry about what's going on with (Gradkowski) and what he's going through.
"There's plenty of reasons to stay positive, and at the end of the day, you have no place to look but up."
No place to look except to a rookie quarterback to save the season.