When will Ryan Griffin get a chance to take a snap in a regular-season game?

Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) prepares to throw during practice earlier this month at One Buc Place. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) prepares to throw during practice earlier this month at One Buc Place. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published August 27 2018
Updated August 27 2018

TAMPA — Quarterback Ryan Griffin knew what he was doing went against the book. A low-percentage throw, a high probability he would get chewed out for making it.

But on third-and-2 from the Lions 19-yard line Friday, rather than selecting a safe toss in the flat for a first down, Griffin sent receiver Freddie Martino on a slant and go. His pass arced perfectly into Martino's hands, as if he had dropped the football in a bucket, for a touchdown.

"That was a great route by Freddie,'' Griffin said. "I threw him a little sluggo (slant and go). Really glad we completed it, because it was third-and-2, and if I didn't, I probably would've really gotten in trouble.

"Taking a shot. No, we normally don't go for the shots on third-and-short. It's one of those — we call them 'be right' plays. You know? So, luckily, Freddie ran a good route and caught the ball.''

The Bucs want desperately to be right about Griffin, now going into his sixth NFL season without ever having taken a snap in a regular season game.

That's right. His sixth season. Griffin is 28, an age when most quarterbacks don't have a job in the league unless they've won more than a few battles during the regular season.

But Griffin's playing time has more or less ended every September. Undrafted out of Tulane in 2013, he spent two seasons with the Saints, bouncing between the active roster and the practice squad. The Bucs claimed him off waivers in 2015, and he has been their No. 3 QB ever since.

But with Jameis Winston serving a three-game suspension, Griffin is one play away from being the Bucs' starter.

A year ago, Griffin was in a pretty good battle with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the No. 2 spot behind Winston. But he suffered a shoulder sprain in the first preseason game at Cincinnati and missed eight weeks. When Winston sat out three games with a shoulder injury, Griffin was again a heartbeat from entering a game that mattered.

"There's a lot of things each season I'm sure you can look back on and say, "what if?'' Griffin said. "At first, probably early on I would lose sleep over that, but I don't anymore. Stuff happens. It's the NFL. I'm thankful I've been around this long.''

If every team carried three quarterbacks, there would be 96 jobs like the one Griffin has. Players such as Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III were out of football last season.

RG4 (Griffin wears No. 4) has drawn a paycheck from the NFL going on six seasons. In fact, the Bucs liked him so much, in '17, they signed him to a two-year, $2.25-million contract. His career earnings will top $4-million this season.

If nothing else, the Bucs believe in Griffin. "Very true. That's one of the things I've very appreciative of,'' Griffin said. "There hasn't always been a lot of people that believed in me, but there's been a few and that's always good to have.''

When he's played, that faith has been rewarded. Griffin has steadily racked up some gaudy career preseason numbers: 185 for 308 passing (60 percent) for 2,036 yards with 13 TDs and 7 INTs.

In the preseason opener, he led the Bucs on a game-winning drive with under two minutes to play. Griffin's confidence has grown each season.

"Yeah, I just think our fans, the Bucs' fans, don't know the same things that the players and coaches know about Griff,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "He's been three years in our system, he knows it inside and out, he's a very accurate passer. When he has time to throw, he's going to put the ball on the money.

"Ryan Griffin suffers from the old catch-22: he's been in the league five years, two with the Saints and three with us, but (he can say), 'Coach, how do I get experience if you don't give me experience?' That's one of the difficulties with the way the calendar works now. Unfortunately, Ryan got hurt during preseason last year. It's tough to get your third quarterback at the time experience. But we've kept Ryan (Griffin) around here for three years because we believe in him and we think he can play. He's got to get his chance."

To his credit, Griffin has not wasted his time. It would be easy to give up hope of ever playing. He could probably get away with giving less effort as the scout team quarterback during game week. But he's not about to let go of his dream.

"That's always been the goal, to play,'' Griffin said. "Sometimes going into preseason, whenever it's not truly a competition, you're really competing for your job. My mindset has been, I've just got to go out there and get better. If I get better, the team gets better, and for me, it helps my career if I'm getting better.''

"Whenever you get around some vets, you can always tell who is trying to get better and who is just staying healthy. That's been something I've learned over my career, that the guys who are making it a career, Pro Bowl players, these guys are constantly pushing themselves.''

Being No. 2 for at least three games is something Griffin has embraced.

"Last year, I was the backup for three games. I've done it before,'' he said. "I did it in New Orleans whenever I got called up and was active. It's the same preparation. Obviously, it's a little different when you're one play away instead of two plays away.''

Of course, Griffin has never taken his career for granted. He figures if he just keeps working, one day, the situation will be right.

"Oh, it really is a blessing, and I'm very fortunate,'' Griffin said. "It's one of those things. It's hard. You almost have blinders on. That's just how it is. There's only so many spots, including the practice squad. There's maybe 100 guys that will be on an NFL roster (at quarterback) this year, and everyone is trying to get that spot.''