Gruden, Garcia rip report, reassert that injury is minor

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 3, 2007

NEW ORLEANS - Quarterback Jeff Garcia and coach Jon Gruden vehemently denied an ESPN report Sunday that suggested Garcia's badly bruised back is more serious than the team has indicated.

The report by Chris Mortensen said Garcia sustained a hairline fracture.

Garcia was hurt in last week's victory against Washington and was the inactive No.3 quarterback Sunday, one who is used only as a last resort.

"There's a lot of reports out there," Gruden said. "I just wish some of these reports were verified. (Mortensen) doesn't have a (expletive) idea what he's talking about. I can't understand why he would say that unless he got the X-rays himself."

Garcia said he felt good about his prospects for playing next week at Houston and denied he sustained structural damage.

"I'm ready to go next week," he said. "I think I'm going to be healthy enough to continue on all throughout the season."

Garcia had designs on playing in New Orleans, making it known with an early visit to Gruden's hotel room. But Gruden wouldn't hear of it, citing Garcia's lack of practice time. Garcia looked to have a limited range of motion during warmups.

GRUDEN'S LOGIC: As for Gruden's decision to flip-flop Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski on the depth chart, the coach seemed to believe McCown possessed more play-making ability.

Gradkowski, 24, had been the primary backup quarterback since Week 2, when McCown, 26, was demoted to No.3.

"As time went on, I just thought the (practice) reps were going to reduce to zero because Jeff takes everything," Gruden said. "So, I was going to rely on Bruce's past experience here in an emergency situation to go in and complete a game for us. But if we have a prolonged injury with time to get a guy ready, McCown was the guy we chose, and we're happy we did."

CLAYTON'S NEW JOB: Michael Clayton was used as the primary kickoff returner as receiver Micheal Spurlock was inactive. Clayton wasn't spectacular, but he managed not to leave his team backed up deep in its territory.

"I was glad to be able to go in and help the offense and give them good field position," Clayton said. "It was my first time back there in my whole career."

On Clayton's four returns, the average starting field position was the Bucs 25.

BIG DAY FOR TIGHT ENDS: Tight ends Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens caught their first touchdowns of the season. With Alex Smith getting most of the looks, there haven't been many opportunities for the backups.

"I think it's a tribute to what we have on this team," Becht said. "If you look around the league at the ability of teams to rotate guys in and have high expectations for guys who come off the bench ... it's important to be able to have guys come in and do it right. Stuff like that can win championships."

With all the tight end success, Becht had a suggestion for position coach Bob Casullo.

"I told Coach Casullo if he wants to renew his contract, this would be a good time," he said.

QUARTERBACKS GALORE: Gruden has won games with 12 starting quarterbacks, more than any active coach. Baltimore's Brian Billick and San Diego's Norv Turner have won games with 10 starters.