Gruden's crush: 'I love Garcia'
For the next six months or so, quarterback Jeff Garcia and coach Jon Gruden will be inseparable.
By RICK STROUD
Published July 15, 2007
TAMPA - Garcia and Gruden. Gruden and Garcia.
Or, if you prefer, Jeff and Jon.
For the next six months or so, quarterback Jeff Garcia and coach Jon Gruden will be inseparable. They will share more than initials. In fact, their futures will be intertwined.
It's the 37-year-old quarterback with his fourth job in as many years and the coach trying desperately to hold onto one.
If you think another player has a chance to win a starting job under center in training camp, which begins July 26, think again.
"I love Garcia," Gruden said recently. "I like what he's doing a lot. I just think he's got some traits we haven't had around here - his mobility, his experience."
Those are exactly the two traits Gruden values the most in a quarterback. Garcia will be the eighth starting quarterback since Gruden arrived in Tampa Bay in 2002, but he is the only one who brings both qualities to the party. Brad Johnson had the experience and used it to get the ball out of his hand quickly, but he moved like he was in quicksand. Bruce Gradkowski made some plays with his feet but was green as grass. Chris Simms had some of both but not enough of either trait.
In Garcia, the Bucs will have a quarterback who can anticipate coverage, react to the defense, create throwing lanes with his mobility and use arm angles to deliver the football accurately in tight spaces.
"I'm accused of not liking young players," Gruden said. "I just like good quarterbacks, like everybody else in this league. Guys that can make plays a number of ways, whether it be through experience, seeing a look, not running the ball into a corner blitz, making a change at the line of scrimmage. A guy who can create with his legs. I like a guy that works the pocket and can throw the ball in congested areas and be accurate. A leader. A consistent performer."
As a result, Bucs fans can expect to see a lot more movement on almost every play. It will be hard for defenses to know exactly where Garcia is setting up one down to the next.
How important is mobility in a quarterback to Gruden?
"It's very important," he said. "If you can't move around, it's going to be hard. Peyton Manning is not the most mobile guy, but if you watch him play, he's got one of the quickest triggers in the history of football. He's deadly accurate. He's as good as there is. But you've got to have some mobility to create passing lanes and some body quickness and some anticipation, and some things Jeff certainly possesses.
"Garcia is a guy we coveted. We made no secret about that the last few years. He's in great shape, he's doing a good job and I don't want to jinx him. He still has a long way to go, but we do like his progress, and we think he's got a nice future here."
If that's true, Gruden has a long future in Tampa Bay.
NO WESTBROOK: One piece of the puzzle Garcia will miss from Philadelphia is a running back who can turn check-downs into touchdowns.
He had that in Eagles multi- purpose back Brian Westbrook, who never came off the field. In addition to rushing for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Westbrook led the Eagles with 77 receptions for 699 yards 9.1 average, including four touchdowns. That's more catches than Cadillac Williams has had during two pro seasons (50).
Williams has worked hard in the offseason to improve his pass-catching ability.
"He only had three drops last season," running backs coach Art Valero said. "But they were big drops in critical situations, so people remember them."
Valero believes Garcia will make Williams a better receiver because he delivers the ball to backs on time.
"He puts it right there so their eyes are turned upfield when they catch it," Valero said. "That makes a big difference."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org