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Gradkowski-to-Galloway not clicking yet
Joey Galloway can still scorch the turf past defenders as one of the league's fastest receivers. But how quickly can he develop a connection with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski
By RICK STROUD
Published October 28, 2006
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Joey Galloway was without a catch Sunday. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski missed him twice on deep on deep routes.
TAMPA - Joey Galloway can still scorch the turf past defenders as one of the league's fastest receivers. But how quickly can he develop a connection with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski?
Despite twice getting behind the defense on double moves against Philadelphia, Galloway went without a catch for the second time this season in the Bucs' 23-21 win Sunday.
After three starts, you can say this about Gradkowski: His name is longer than Chris Simms', but his arm isn't. In fact, Gradkowski's passing numbers have grown smaller with each game.
Part of it is the conservative play-calling of Jon Gruden, who has tried to protect his rookie from the array of blitzes he faced from the Bengals and Eagles. The other factor is Gradkowski rarely practiced with Galloway until he became a starter because the 34-year-old receiver was limited to one session a day in training camp.
"I think the more time that we practice, the more games we play together, the better we'll both get at connecting at those," Galloway said. "It's not easy to do. If it was an easy thing to do, then more teams would do it. It's not a high-percentage thing that goes on in this league to hit the deep ball, and it's something we'll work on together."
It needs to happen quickly.
As the passing game evaporates, it becomes harder to run the football.
Fortunately for Gradkowski, the Bucs have benefited from the additions of first-round pick Davin Joseph at right guard and second-round pick Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle.
Behind Cadillac Williams, the rushing game has begun to produce the past three games, with 4.8 yards per carry.
Still Gradkowski's passes are increasingly shorter. He has completed just four of more than 10 yards, and last weekend, only five completions were to wideouts.
"I haven't been playing with Joey too long and he's a fast guy, so it's a different speed, a different kind of pace out there," he said.
In the first half against the Eagles, Gruden rarely allowed Gradkowski to throw on first or second down, adding pressure to convert on third down.
That approach has cut down on turnovers. He has four touchdowns and just one interception. But many believe it's harder to function as a caretaker quarterback than one who is counted on to make plays.
"It's tougher to play quarterback when you have an outstanding defense because everybody says he just doesn't have to make mistakes. Now you're going out there stepping on eggshells," former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said. ' "I can't throw it here because it might get picked, I can't make this throw.' Everything has to be perfect. That's a very tough way to play that position.
"If the running back needs 20 or 30 carries to get into a rhythm, how do you expect the quarterback to get into rhythm throwing it 10 times?"
Former Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms, father of Chris, agrees. "It's easier to throw 40 times a game than between 13 and 22," he said during a conference call this year.
"That don't-make-a-mistake style of play is hard to play."
"You can make some mistakes, and you can overcome them," former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino said. "We've always talked about that. If I throw a bad ball, we can overcome it because I'm going to keep slinging."
But Gradkowski's passing yardage and completion percentage have decreased. He threw for 225 yards in his debut at New Orleans 64.5 percent, 184 against the Bengals (56.8) and just 104 against the Eagles (50).
"We have a young quarterback," coach Jon Gruden said. "A lot of plays we are calling, and (it is) the first time he has ever run them. A lot of the blitzes and a lot of the things he is seeing are the first time he has ever seen them. ... Bruce is doing a great job. I just think as time moves on we need to get a couple of more big plays from our passing game, and I am confident that we will. We just have to keep working."
Times staff writer Joanne Korth contributed to this report. Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.