How will Bruce Gradkowski fare?

Published October 8, 2006

This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano focuses on the debut of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

GS: So, John, how do you intend to celebrate your first Bruce Gradkowski day?

JR: Sleep late, eat a hearty breakfast and head to the nearest hospital to donate blood. I'll also consider offering one of my kidneys, but the kid cannot have my spleen.

GS: Are you suggesting that Gradkowski should worry about his innards with this offensive line? This is the only team in the NFL where the statistics indicate whether he is an organ donor or not. I keep getting this mental image of Gradkowski as the patient in a kid's Operation game.

JR: I think the point is that expectations should not be too high for young Bruce. This time last season, he was preparing to play Eastern Michigan in front of about 25,000 people in Toledo. Now, he's playing one of the NFL's hottest teams in a carnival-like atmosphere in New Orleans. I'd just be happy if he escapes with his confidence, and cardiovascular system, still intact.

GS: Along the way, I hope Gradkowski can show us a few things. I'd like to see a presence in the pocket; that look of a guy who belongs there. I'd like to see him stand up to the pressure. I'd like to see him get on the edge and make a highlight play or two. Most of all, I would like to wake up Monday talking about a transition, not a transfusion.

JR: It would be nice if everyone understood that Gradkowski is not this season's savior. He may play well. He may show us a glimpse of brighter days. He may even take the Bucs to an upset. But it is wrong to think he, alone, can turn the fortunes of an 0-3 team. I've heard a few people point out that Tom Brady was also a sixth-round pick who took the Patriots to a Super Bowl after Drew Bledsoe was injured early in the 2001 season. Is that insightful or insane?

GS: What it is is incomplete. It's fine to remember Brady, but let me throw a few other sixth-round quarterbacks at you. Scott Barry and Mike Buck, Spence Fischer and Mike Cherry, Chuck Clements and Josh Dutton, Spergon Wynn and JuJuan Seider. Do I need to go on?

JR: No, you had me at Spergon. You had me at Spergon.

GS: Here's a better comparison. Mark Rypien came out of the sixth round, too. And Stan Humphries and Rodney Peete. In other words, quarterbacks who could win if everyone around them played well. For the Bucs, that's the bigger issue. Can they lessen the odds against Gradkowski?

JR: To me, this is all a learning experience. Gradkowski learns the difference between the Mid-American Conference and the NFL. And the Bucs learn if Gradkowski has what it takes to survive in this league. Along the way, maybe they can find their mojo on defense and win a handful of games.

GS: Mojo? Is he one of the safeties? One of the defensive linemen? For instance, you couldn't find Booger McFarland with a GPS system.

JR: If I was a smart aleck, I might point out that based on his salary of $4.5-million and his current rate of production, Booger is earning about $140,625 per tackle. But only a real nudje would point that out.

GS: A nudje? Isn't that what a Buc offensive lineman does on third and 1?

JR: I wouldn't know. I've only seen them in third and long.

GS: And as we know, on third and long, they spin. On first and 10, they illegally motion. On second and 7, they hold. It's like a strange dance. Which leads us, of course, to the Saints, a team you would feel wonderful about if they weren't owned by such a clod.

JR: I still feel wonderful about the Saints. I just choose to ignore the dancing idiot on the sideline.

GS: If this season doesn't get better fast, you might have to identify which sideline you're talking about.