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Garcia move feels like Bucs QB smoke screen

This time the question is not about who. For this week, perhaps for longer than that, Brian Griese is the quarterback of the Bucs.

This time the question is "Why?"

In particular, the question is "Why now?"

When Jon Gruden pulled his starting quarterback Wednesday, it had the feel of a coach who could not wait to do so. Officially, the reason Jeff Garcia was replaced was because of a sore ankle, and supposedly the move is for this week only.

And yet, the feeling is that something deeper is going on, and that perhaps it will last longer than anyone with the Bucs is willing to say out loud.

At gut level, it feels as if Griese is in, Garcia is out and Gruden is at it again.

Think about it. What other team announces its quarterback is out because of a sore ankle on Wednesday? Where else in the NFL does a team promote a backup 100 hours before kickoff? If a coach still believed in his quarterback, wouldn't he give him every practice, every minute, to get healthy enough to play?

Most places, that's the way it would go. The coach would shake his head and wonder whether his starter would be ready. He would proclaim confidence in his backup quarterback, who would take most of the snaps in practice. You know, just in case. Then he would go and yell at the trainers.

Here? Gruden started talking about playing Griese on Monday. The quarterbacks found out on Tuesday. The world found out about it on Wednesday.

Contrast that with the secrecy with which Gruden handled Garcia's back injury last year. Before the New Orleans game, and before the Houston game, Gruden announced that Garcia would play if at all healthy. It was only later that Gruden admitted that he knew all along that Garcia wasn't going to play. He said he just didn't want to give anyone a competitive advantage.

Now, a few months later, Gruden tells the world that he is changing quarterbacks.


If you are searching for clues that this isn't just about Garcia's aching ankle, perhaps you should consider the comment that Gruden made after Wednesday's practice. "I just want (Garcia) to get healthy physically and emotionally," Gruden said.


What exactly does "emotionally" mean? Does it suggest that Garcia, 38, is still bothered that the team wouldn't rework his contract? Does it hint that his feelings are still bruised that the Bucs flirted with Brett Favre? Does it mean that when the coach looks at the quarterback, he doesn't see the same guy he saw last year.

And here's the money question: If Garcia is so emotional that those things affected his play, how much do you think a demotion will bother him? It's easy to wonder: Have the Bucs just lost Garcia?

Let's agree on this much. Garcia played so badly Sunday that you expected league officials to change his name to "Gradkowski." He was rusty, and he was ragged. He threw short and wide and wobbly. He showed none of the creativity or efficiency of a year ago.

On the other hand, Garcia did make the Pro Bowl last year. You would think his margin for error would exceed one game. If a guy is going to be a team's starting quarterback for the entire offseason, you would think he would last until Sept. 14. Instead, he will watch.

First reaction: Already?

Even for Gruden, this is a quick hook. Then again, Gruden has never been the most patient guy in the room when it comes to quarterbacks. Remember 2004? Two games into the season — and 20 months after a Super Bowl victory — Gruden pulled Brad Johnson from a game to put in Chris Simms. After the team fell to 0-4, he replaced Johnson. Johnson never started again.

On the other hand, this Bucs team is 0-1, not 0-4, which makes this move feel sudden, if not desperate.

Here's a question: What happens if Griese wins Sunday? He should, after all. Oh, Griese has his doubters in Denver and Miami and Chicago, but Gruden has always liked his intelligence. Griese can keep a ship steady, and he looked sharp in the preseason. Against the Falcons at home, that should be enough.

If Griese wins, do you think Gruden goes back to Garcia the next week? No, nor should he. What if Griese plays for the next month? Is Garcia the next quarterback? Is Luke McCown? Josh Johnson?

At this point, anything seems possible.

Anyone, too.

Garcia move feels like Bucs QB smoke screen 09/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 9:55am]
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