TAMPA — There hasn't been a bigger buildup of arms since the Cold War, but Jon Gruden really doesn't care what folks think of his obsession with quarterbacks.
Since arriving in Tampa Bay in 2002, Gruden has had nine players start at least one game under center, and six signal-callers are now on the roster.
Will this silly phase, like the quarterbacks themselves, come to pass?
Not likely. In fact, Gruden would like to experience selecting one in the first round of the NFL draft.
"I keep telling Bruce (Allen, general manager) I'd like to coach a first-rounder (at quarterback) sometime before I'm out of the league," Gruden said. "I wouldn't mind coaching one. Guys do get picked in the first round for a reason."
Six of the 12 teams that reached the playoffs last year had No. 1 picks starting at quarterback most of the season. The past three Super Bowl winning passers — Eli and Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger — were selected in the first round.
The Bucs have bigger needs to address than quarterback. A flash-and-dash receiver to take the load off Joey Galloway. A young corner to groom to replace Ronde Barber. A running back for insurance if Cadillac Williams never runs again.
Why draft another quarterback? Why not?
Gruden hasn't exactly discovered the Bucs' quarterback of the future.
Starter Jeff Garcia is 38 and in the final year of his deal. Chris Simms hasn't played in 18 months and wants to be traded. Brian Griese is on his fifth team in seven years and his second stint with the Bucs. Jake Plummer is retired. Luke McCown has a year left to prove he can make better decisions in the pocket. And Bruce Gradkowski is green and growing.
Under Gruden, the Bucs have not been bashful about investing in the position. Since '02, the Bucs have used six draft selections to collect signal-callers.
Two were used to select Simms (third round in '04) and Gradkowski (sixth round in '06). Four other picks were used to trade for veteran quarterbacks — McCown (sixth round to Cleveland in '04), Tim Rattay (sixth to 49ers in '05), Plummer (seventh in '08 to Denver) and Griese (seventh in '09).
Gruden has always had his most success with veteran quarterbacks. Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl. Rich Gannon at Oakland took him to the AFC title game. Griese and Garcia started seasons that resulted in division titles.
Perhaps it's because he lacks patience or his offense is too complicated. Whatever the reason, Gruden gets the reputation for not being able to develop a young quarterback.
"I never understood that," Gruden said. "In Philadelphia, Ty Detmer played well as a young guy. In Oakland, Bobby Hoying did play well when I was there. Chris (Simms) did help us here before he got hurt. He played pretty good and helped win a division title. There's not a lot of left-handed guys playing in the league, either. Which is another question I keep trying to find the answers to."
This year, as many as three quarterbacks could go in the first round. But the top one on most boards is Boston College's Matt Ryan, who will likely be long gone before the Bucs make their 20th overall selection.
But there are some interesting possibilities beginning in the second round.
• Louisville's Brian Brohm, who would've been a surefire first-rounder had he declared for the draft a year ago, could be the second quarterback off the board Saturday. His brother, Jeff, played for the 49ers and Bucs.
• Delaware's Joe Flacco, at 6 feet 7, 236 pounds, has all the physical tools and arguably the strongest arm in the draft. The knock is that he competed at the Division I-AA level.
"I think his (Senior) Bowl game performance really helped him," Gruden said of Flacco. "I think when you watch (Michigan's Chad) Henne and (Tennessee's Eric) Ainge and you watch (Hawaii's) Colt Brennan and all the guys who were there in Mobile (Ala.), I think Flacco helped himself. He stood out there. He's a big guy, poised and confident. People liked his stroke. People liked the way he threw the football. He's thrown for a gazillion yards and dominated the level of competition."
• Another interesting possibility is San Diego's Josh Johnson, a favorite of Bucs pro personnel assistant Doug Williams. Johnson, the fastest quarterback in the draft with a 4.4 40-yard dash, threw 43 touchdowns with one interception last season.
"That's hard to do," Gruden said. "Then you watch the East-West game and watch him run around and make plays. Phil Simms came out of Morehead State. A lot of these guys came out of small schools. He's going to play in the league."
The Bucs have visited with Brohm, Flacco, Henne and Johnson. Perhaps that's a sign they are targeting a quarterback.
"At some point, yeah, you'd like to have that guy who's going to be the model of the franchise for years to come," Gruden said. "But sometimes, you're just singing, 'I like dreaming.' "