TAMPA — Most of the time, Jeff Garcia supplies the energy in the huddle. But this time, it's the Bucs quarterback who needs to feel recharged.
Garcia, 38, makes his preseason debut tonight against the Jaguars. He isn't expected to play more than a series or two, a precautionary nod to his strained right calf.
But only by taking his rightful place under center can he leave all the offseason debris — barely missing out on a $1-million playing time incentive, the lack of a contract extension and the team's futile flirtation with Brett Favre — on the sideline.
"It doesn't have any effect on how I play," Garcia said. "I'm not looking at any of the things that have happened during the offseason or during the start of training camp as anything that needs to take away from my focus of playing football for this team. And that's really where it is.
"I don't like talking about those things. I would've rather that those things would've never become an issue and we would've never had to discuss them. Unfortunately, they did come to light, but I'd rather put that stuff behind me and focus on playing football."
Of the five quarterbacks on the roster, Garcia is the last to play in the preseason. Brian Griese, acquired in an offseason trade with Chicago, has surgically operated the offense for touchdown marches of 19 and 17 plays. Luke McCown has bitten off yards in bigger chunks. Even Chris Simms and rookie Josh Johnson have had their moments.
But after leading the Bucs to a division title last season, Garcia is still the man who will be counted on to ignite the offense.
And he does it utilizing a unique style — gusting into the huddle, barking instructions, keeping plays alive with his feet before resetting and delivering passes with uncanny accuracy, ranking fourth in the NFC in completion percentage at a career-high 63.9 last season.
"I think it's important for them to see my energy and my enthusiasm for the game and what I bring to the table," said Garcia, who missed nearly all of training camp and participated in just a few practices this week. "I think that's not necessarily something that's missing with the other guys. Everybody has their own approach, and everybody has been effective.
"But I feel I am different. I feel I bring different things to the table that way, and so I think it is important for me to be back in the mix and let them be around that and somewhat find energy out of it."
Coach Jon Gruden will be careful in his play-calling not to expose Garcia to too many risks. But he'd like to get him a few easy completions before pulling the plug.
Even with Garcia back, however, the Bucs will be missing several starters on offense: guard Davin Joseph (broken right foot), receiver Joey Galloway (groin) and fullback B.J. Askew (ankle).
"It would be nice to get the band back together and play a song or two before we have to do a whole concert," Gruden said.
So what would constitute a successful performance for Garcia tonight? A touchdown drive would be a bonus. Picking up a few first downs would instill confidence. But just re-establishing himself as the starter by playing is reward enough, he said.
"I think the most important thing is going out there and trying to execute the offense to the best of my abilities. And that means calling the play correctly, getting the players lined up correctly, being good in my decisionmaking," Garcia said. "I can't control everything that happens on the field, but I do have a pretty large share of the control on certain things. I would just like to go out there and try to execute the best that I can. It would be great to complete some balls and have some success, but it's not like I'm going against air.
"Those guys are trying to do what they can to stop us, and they are pretty good. So it'll be a great challenge for me to just get out there and get into the rhythm again and get used to playing in the heat of the battle."
And leave all the distractions behind.