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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Giddy Gruden glorifies Gradkowski
The Bucs coach says the rookie QB played well enough in the preseason to almost beat out Chris Simms for the starting job.
By RICK STROUD
Published October 13, 2006
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Bruce Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick in April, completed 20 of 31 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first start Sunday.
TAMPA — Rookie Bruce Gradkow-ski outplayed every Bucs quarterback in the preseason. The performance was so impressive, coach Jon Gruden says, some can make the argument he actually won the job over Chris Simms.
“I’m saying he built a real case for himself,” Gruden said. “It’s nothing controversial here. It’s just a fact.”
Gradkowski was second in the NFL with a 105.3 passer rating in the preseason. He completed 73.8 percent of his passes for 511 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
That dwarfed Simms, whose rating was 65.9 after completing 53.9 percent of his passes in only a third as many attempts.
Gruden decided to start the season with Simms, who had four seasons in the system and went 5-1 against the NFC South last season.
But Simms, 26, started 0-3 while throwing seven interceptions and one touchdown before sustaining a ruptured spleen Sept. 24 against Carolina.
In his starting debut Sunday, Gradkowski, 23, was 20-of-31 for 225 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-21 loss at New Orleans.
“I’m not going to come out and sound like I’m dissing Chris Simms,” Gruden said. “Obviously, we have two young quarterbacks and two completely different types of guys. We have a lot of confidence that Chris is a good player and could be a hell of a player. He has shown glimpses of that.
“But we knew Bruce was a quick study. He’s a guy who has amazing persistence to get better. This guy is driving me crazy. He’s like a stalker. You can’t dispute what you saw or what anybody saw in the preseason. You don’t lead the NFL in passing efficiency … unless you’ve done something.”
Monday during his weekly radio show, Gruden for the first time revealed that many in the organization believed Gradkowski played well enough in training camp to win the starting job.
The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Gradkowski, who played in a spread offense in college and is able to make plays with his feet, is considered a perfect fit for Gruden’s offense. He is closer to what Gruden had in Rich Gannon at Oakland than Simms, a drop-back passer who thrives when throwing the ball down the field using five- and seven-step drops.
Receiver Joey Galloway said he has watched Gruden with Gradkowski and noticed there is more of an ease in how the coach relates his vision of the offense to his new quarterback.
“For a young guy, a young quarterback, Bruce has shown he can do some things that not a lot of young quarterbacks can do,” Galloway, the 12-year veteran, said. “It makes it easier to coach, easier to work with a guy to let him know what you’re thinking as a coach. You coach those guys differently. We see that with Bruce more than some other guys.
“It’s a totally different skill set. I can tell in their communication. I think they communicate well.”
Gradkowski, used to being coached hard since playing youth football in Pittsburgh for his father, drew the wrath of Gruden’s training camp tirades. But it only made him more determined.
“Since the first day I got here, I knew myself and Gruden would have a connection,” Gradkowski said. “I love his fiery attitude, his intensity. He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve ever been around. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at what they do. That rubs off on a football team. That’s why we’re sitting here saying, 'Wait a minute, we shouldn’t be 0-4.’”
Gruden took a liking to Gradkowski watching him set an NCAA record by completing more than 70 percent of his passes for two straight seasons. That said, Gradkowski quickly exceeded the expectations of a sixth-round pick out of Toledo. Not only did Gruden like his production, he loved his presence in the huddle.
“He didn’t get 40 percent of the reps in training camp for no reason,” Gruden said. “He earned it.
“When he came in the game, I don’t care who he was playing against, it was a preseason game for everyone — and I realize he didn’t see the regulars all the time — but when he came in the game, things happened. The team moved. He made great decisions. He built a case and gained momentum, with the players and the organization, that this guy is for real.”
Those playmaking skills were on display Sunday at New Orleans. Gradkowski completed passes on the move, completed passes with people in his face, completed passes with touch and others that he zipped.
“I think the one I remember is the one he hit Galloway on in the second possession of the game,” Gruden said of a 22-yarder to the Saints 40.
“There was a (defensive) stunt, and we didn’t pick it up. And we had a guy drill him right as he threw it. A lot of guys might duck or dip or run to their right and have an aborted play. But when you can throw the ball like that … and the (18-yard) throw he made to Galloway late in the game on the comeback near our sideline; Jiminy Christmas, he proved he can make the throws.”
Gradkowski’s performance over the next few weeks could go a long way in determining Simms’ future. Simms will not return until Thanksgiving, at the earliest, if the team doesn’t place him on injured reserve. After the season, he can become an unrestricted free agent.
A year ago, Brian Griese led the Bucs to a 5-1 start before a season-ending knee injury. But the Bucs opted not to pay him a roster bonus, voiding his contract and allowing him to sign with the Bears.
Gruden is careful not to anoint Gradkowski the quarterback of the future after only one start.
“He’s got a long way to go. This is a completely different challenge here with the Bengals coming in with (coach) Marvin Lewis. It’s a hell of a defensive football team. We saw what they did to the Steelers in Pittsburgh,’’ Gruden said of the 28-20 win Sept. 24. “Hopefully, he can continue to make strides because it’s exciting.
“He’s a different kind of quarterback. He really has people’s attention. This guy is not only a good player, but he’s tough as nails. He throws the ball with guys beating down on him. He’s got great anticipation. But as we move forward, there are some signs that are really exciting. I don’t want to jinx it. But he’s off to a real good start, and I’m proud of him.”