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Bucs' McCown uses 2007 struggles to improve play

Luke McCown, here practicing Wednesday, completed 67.6 percent last season.

\uFEFFBRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Luke McCown, here practicing Wednesday, completed 67.6 percent last season.

TAMPA — There are athletes who make every effort to purge their most forgettable plays from their memories. Others, like Bucs quarterback Luke McCown, obsessively recall each intimate detail in a quest to pinpoint where it all went wrong.

"I don't forget any of them," he said this week at minicamp, Tampa Bay's offseason finale.

"The safety, that was bad. No question. The interception (intended for) Joey (Galloway) in New Orleans, that wasn't good. … The fumble in San Francisco, on their sideline, I just wasn't protecting the ball. That interception against Carolina, if I throw the right kind of ball, it's a touchdown."

It's not an exercise in masochism. It's actually an important part of the growing process for McCown, now 26, as he enters the final season of his contract knowing he must prove such plays are the exception, not the norm.

But for McCown, just having the chance to make those miscues was progress. Having been with the Bucs since 2005, he went two seasons without taking a snap. Last season, he was thrust into action in five games, making three starts. Finally, it gave the player and his coaches a body of work by which to judge him. It also gave McCown a road map for the offseason, allowing him to target areas of his game that need the most work.

"That was big," he said of having film to evaluate. "Any experience is good experience if you learn from it and apply the things you learn."

Still, it's not like McCown was dreadful. He completed 67.6 percent of his attempts in 2007. That included an impressive 29-of-37, 313-yard performance at New Orleans in December while Jeff Garcia was sidelined with a lower back injury. Even McCown's 91.7 quarterback rating wasn't far off Garcia's 94.6.

Consider coach Jon Gruden impressed, as he confirmed with his recent statement: "The promise of McCown is real."

The Bucs will admit, reluctantly, Garcia's age (38) and reckless style make having a formidable backup essential. That's part of the reason Tampa Bay traded for Brian Griese in March. It's also the reason much of the offseason has been about finding out exactly who McCown is.

Will he be known more as the up-and-comer with the rocket-powered arm and rare athleticism? Or will those precious traits be overshadowed by his untimely hiccups?

Ultimately, it's up to McCown.

"To me, it's about the ability to make quicker decisions," quarterbacks coach Greg Olson said. "And they don't only have to be quick decisions. They have to be the right decisions. He's shown that he can do that. If he can do it on a more consistent basis, then that's taking the next step."

To that end, McCown has been fine-tuning his game this offseason. Specifically, he has placed emphasis on his unwillingness to commit to decisions on the fly.

"I'm being hard on myself about the sacks, about holding onto the ball (too long) and pushing myself to get better in those areas," he said. "Call it trust, timing — whatever you want to call it. I just wanted to really see every­thing I was throwing into. The more you play, the more you trust that the guy is going to be where he's supposed to be. … I'm anticipating things a little bit better."

ROSTER TRIM: The Bucs began whittling down their roster Thursday, cutting defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and several others as they attempt to reach the 80-man training camp limit.

Chukwurah, who signed a $5.5-million free-agent contract in 2007, played sparingly due to knee and shoulder injuries. He appeared in nine games, finishing with 12 tackles. Because more than $5-million of his contract was non-guaranteed, the salary-cap implications should be minimal.

Linebacker Leon Joe, defensive lineman Marquies Gunn and tight end Keith Heinrich were also released.

Bucs' McCown uses 2007 struggles to improve play 06/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2008 10:49pm]
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