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Bucs' elaborate playbook keeps players challenged

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia's NFL beginnings can be traced to a place where the roots of the West Coast offense run deepest.

In San Francisco, playing for a 49ers team that adopted former coaching great Bill Walsh's offensive philosophy, Garcia learned the intricacies of the short-range, precision passing attack.

When Garcia joined forces with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs supposedly employ the same scheme, Garcia found the offense was, well, unrecognizable.

"Coach Gruden has taken it a certain direction and he's multiplied maybe what I experienced in San Francisco with (Steve) Mariucci and in Philly with the coaches there," Garcia said. "He's multiplied it probably three or four (times) with the amount of volume we have in the system."

So, as many ponder the possibility of Packers quarterback Brett Favre joining the Bucs and whether he can excel in Tampa Bay's offense with limited absorption time, it is worth noting that Gruden's system has evolved well beyond the West Coast offense into something that can leave a player's head spinning.

Gruden hates the connotation. He considers his scheme more demanding than overwhelming. He would rather accentuate its potential for creating exploitable matchups.

"I get tired of all that hogwash," Gruden said. "I don't see any mistakes out here. But I do know they have to study and they will be challenged. If you are sitting in the meeting room with all the answers, maybe you need to get upstairs (to your hotel room) and make some phone calls and watch some TV. I want these guys to have to study."

But with the Bucs relying on a number of young players, their ability to adapt to Gruden's ever-changing system — he adds tweaks to the playbook practically twice a day in training camp — is constantly tested. Their early-career successes or failures are in large part the result of their comfort level in the offense.

"Sometimes, a lot of young guys come in after just living off their talent (in college)," said running back Warrick Dunn, a newcomer to the offense. "That gets away from you after a while. You get out of position and you make mistakes. You have to have a football mentality and football sense to master it."

And mastering the playbook to Gruden's satisfaction is no small task.

"You never know what he's going to break out," said running back Michael Bennett, who struggled to grasp the offense after his midseason trade to the Bucs last season. "(Gruden) will bring out a script for practice, and then he'll switch it up and go off the top of his head. He'll go grab something from deep in the playbook that was for the next week, just to see if guys know it."

The offense is difficult to digest for several reasons. As quarterbacks Chris Simms and Brian Griese pointed out, the verbiage is much more extensive than most offenses.

Don't believe it? Consider the terms "Freddy Krueger" and "Son of Sam" are actually used in this offense.

Others pointed to the numerous variables. Adding a single word to a call can change the complexion of the play. But mostly, there's just lots of complex information to process, with more guaranteed to come.

"He's the mad scientist," Simms said. "He can't help it. He just wants to keep himself mentally stimulated. We have a lot of unbelievable plays. A lot of time, I think our biggest problem is calling them all."

With the Bucs rarely having one of the league's higher-ranked offenses, it's fair to ask what the Bucs gain from the use of Gruden's offense.

"He really means well," Dunn said. "He's trying to create mismatches and take advantage of certain situations, and we can do that."

Whether it is always successful is up for debate, but Gruden says his approach is well received.

"Yeah, there are a lot of plays," Gruden said. "I know a lot of guys I coach, they appreciate that. They don't want to be a running back and run right into a free safety. If we have five good tight ends, maybe we'll put them all out there together. If we don't have any good tight ends, maybe we'll play five receivers. Training camp is an opportunity for you to put all your combinations together, and that's what we're doing here."

Bucs training camp updates

Stay on top of the latest developments with our daily midday audio slide shows featuring photos from camp and insights from Times staff writers Rick Stroud, Stephen F. Holder and Tom Jones , as well as our Bucs blog at bucs.tampabay.com.

>>FAST FACTS

What is the
West Coast offense?

Perfected by coaching legend Bill Walsh with the 49ers, the West Coast offense employs short- and medium-range passes as the foundation of a ball-control attack. The offense involves a lot of pre-snap motion and can help teams with average running attacks to control the clock.

Bucs' elaborate playbook keeps players challenged 07/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:39pm]

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