TAMPA — Jeff Garcia says he is not a savior. A survivor, maybe.
Benched after the Week 1 loss at New Orleans, demoted to the inactive third quarterback for three weeks, limited by calf and ankle injuries that put the brakes on his mobility, Garcia overcame it all.
So with starter Brian Griese unable to throw a football because of a sore elbow and shoulder, Garcia is almost certain to get the start Sunday against the Panthers.
"For me, it's an exciting time because I feel like there's an opportunity that might be presented there," Garcia said.
"I just want to be able to get back in and be the guy that I was for this team last year; the guy I feel I'm capable of being. And if I'm given that opportunity, hopefully I can run with it and make the most out of it."
Griese said an MRI exam revealed no structural damage from the hit he took Sunday on a third-quarter blitz by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.
"I haven't tried to throw, and I don't expect to try (Wednesday),'' Griese said. "I'll continue to get the treatment on it and then later in the week address that.
"I couldn't give you a percentage (of playing)."
After practice Wednesday, coach Jon Gruden all but confirmed Garcia, 38, would be the starter with Luke McCown the probable backup.
"If you can't throw, you have a hard time playing," Gruden said of Griese. "I don't want to make any concrete statements until we get a chance to meet and see how Brian is and how Jeff feels and the whole crew of quarterbacks."
Sunday in Denver, Garcia shook off the rust after two failed drives and marched the Bucs 90 yards for their only touchdown in a 16-13 loss, completing seven passes in the process.
He said he has put to rest all of the negative events of the offseason — the lost playing time bonus, the flirtation with Brett Favre and the benching.
"If given the opportunity, I want to battle for this team," Garcia said. "I want to give them everything I have to give. I want to have that same electricity, that same enthusiasm that I played with last year. I'm not going to focus on any of the things that have taken place in the last six months. That's all negative energy. I don't need that energy within myself, and I just want to create a positive situation here."
Looking back, Garcia said his mobility was severely limited by the array of injuries.
"I'm a lot more healthy at this time," he said. "I'm not favoring anything. I feel like the speed is back, the explosion within the pocket, the mobility within the pocket. So those things are definitely better than they were going into the first week. Not to say that was an excuse because it wasn't. But when you haven't practiced a whole lot and you're coming off an injury, you haven't been able to work on your explosion like normal.
"I found that when I watched the film of that New Orleans game, there were opportunities where I had chances to run and just didn't have that explosion or getaway that I normally have had in the past. So I feel like that's back for me."
That will come in handy Sunday against a defense that has not allowed an offensive touchdowns in nine quarters.
"I think mobility is an asset," Gruden said. (Denver's Jay Cutler) makes two great scrambles and wins them the game last week. It changes the field position. Third and 12, he gets a first down by himself. To keep the ball alive and maybe get down the field, your mobility oftentimes allows you to do that."
While the Bucs have three quarterbacks on the roster who have won for them, Gruden said he would prefer to settle on one.
"I've had a lifetime of injuries," Gruden said. "It's hard to describe in a short little press conference here, but it's hard.
"You've got a lot of things you've got to deal with, obviously, and no one plays the position the same. Nobody likes this play as much as this guy or this thing as much as this guy and no one has the same style. Obviously, it's tough on you."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @sptimes.com.