Vinny Testaverde has made some painful strides as the Bucs' quarterback this season. Now it is time for him to step aside. In an attempt to finally heal the turf toe injury Testaverde aggravated in Tampa Bay's 17-14 loss to Dallas, head coach Ray Perkins named Chris Chandler the starter in Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
It will be the first full dividend Tampa Bay has cashed since trading for Chandler, an expensive insurance policy the Bucs purchased in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts. The Bucs gave up their No.
1 draft pick in 1992 for Chandler.
"Chris Chandler will start and play the game," Perkins said Wednesday. "He'll be backed up by Jeff Carlson. Unless something happens, that's what we'd like to do. Unless one of those guys gets hurt, Vinny will not play. Nor will he practice. We're going to see if we can get that big toe well _ the big Dallas toe.
"Talking with my trainer, Chris Smith, he thinks that will be the thing to make it 100 percent. Otherwise, it'll keep bothering him the same way and he'll be missing practice. You can't get ready to play and play at a very high level missing practice."
Chandler, who started 16 games with the Colts, has played sparingly but spark-lingly for the Bucs this season. He relieved a lame Testaverde early in the third quarter in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams and again in the fourth quarter of Sunday's defeat by Dallas. On both occasions, Chandler provided an immediate spark for the Bucs' lifeless offense. He has completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards.
But the switch of starting quarterbacks stunned Chandler on Wednesday, especially since Testaverde was able to rebound from his injury once and direct the Bucs to a win over Green Bay two weeks ago.
"I guess I didn't expect it, so it would have to be classified as a surprise," Chandler said. "I thought it would be a lot like after the last Dallas game when Vinny had his toe sore, that he'd try to rest it up and play on Sunday. But they chose to give him a whole week off, which makes it a little more fun for me this week.
"For myself, anyway, it's something I can mentally start getting geared up for on Wednesday as opposed to Thursday and Friday. That's two extra days getting yourself in the mental frame of mind you get when you know you're going to start. You've got to overcome a lot of anxieties."
Perkins said he has no anxieties about starting Chandler, who has exhibited grace under pressure this season. With the Bucs trailing the Rams 35-7 in Week 2, Chandler entered the game late in the third quarter and completed a 35-yard pass to Ron Hall on his first play from scrimmage to spark the Bucs to a quick touchdown.
Lightning struck again on Sunday when Chandler entered the game late in the fourth quarter with the Bucs facing a third-and-7 situation at the Cowboys 30. Chandler dropped back and calmly drilled a 23-yard pass to Frank Pillow for a first down. Three plays later, he fired an apparent touchdown pass to Willie Drewery, but the score was erased by a Bucs penalty.
"I feel very comfortable. I feel very fortunate to have him," Perkins said of Chandler.
"It's not like he hasn't been practicing. You unplug one and plug the other one in. That's it. Keep going. It's no different than starting John Harvey at running back or Winston Moss at inside linebacker.
"I thought about doing this for the Green Bay game, because Chandler got virtually all the practice that week. I just decided not to do it. I had a reason, but I'm not worried about thinking back two weeks ago."
But Bucs fans do not have to think back too far to remember when Perkins was a little more hesitant to go to his bullpen.
Tampa Bay has lost all three games in which Testaverde has not started over the past two seasons. In every instance, the Bucs were forced to turn to 39-year-old veteran backup Joe Ferguson, whose arm had weakened with age.
"Joe didn't have the arm," said Bucs receiver Bruce Hill. "He couldn't throw the deep ball. He had to make up for it with a quick release, but he doesn't have the arm these guys have. These guys can get it there."
"Every quarterback has got the same basic skills, I guess you could say," Perkins said. "Can (Chandler) make the same throws? Yes. Do we have to change our passing game? No."
Chandler, who wanted out of Indianapolis after the Colts traded for the first pick in the draft to select quarterback Jeff George, admits backing up Testaverde has not been all fun and games this season. He also has had trouble adjusting to taking just 20 percent of the throws in practice.
"It gets frustrating. I don't how to compare it to anything but you just kind of learn to expect it so you don't let it bother you as much as time goes on," he said. "But still, at times, it's real hard.
"I thought I'd handle it better. There's times when I handle it real well and there's other days when you're just not in a good mood. But overall, I've handled it as well as anybody else. It stems from the fact that I came from a situation where I was getting all the reps and playing all the time. And now all of a sudden it's taken away from you. Well, not so much taken away from you, but what you're used to just isn't there anymore. I don't know how long it takes to adjust to it, but it's a slow process."
Chandler will not have long to adjust to his role Sunday as a starter. The Chargers are ranked 12th in the league in run defense and boast one of the best pass rushes in football.
"Whether it was coming off a big win or a tough loss, it would be tough against this defense," Chandler said. "We played them when I was with the Colts both times and they haven't changed much. Big, strong frontline people and they do a good job of blitzing and putting pressure on a quarterback. Secondary-wise, they're real good cover people. It's a really good aggressive scheme. It seems like they're always keeping the pressure on you."
But to listen to San Diego coach Dan Henning on Wednesday, you would think the pressure is on his defense. It seems the Chargers are not totally convinced they won't see Testaverde on the field Sunday.
"Vinny's playing real well," Henning said. "The consideration is there that if Chandler were to get hurt, would they go to Testaverde? And it puts them in a precarious position if the guy really is in a position where he can't perform correctly. That's always the problem when your No.
1 quarterback is hurt and I'm sure that's a consideration for them.
"We've seen Chandler play. We've seen him play at Indianapolis and we've seen him play down there. He's a very capable guy with a strong arm. I worked him out when he came out of college and I think he's an intelligent guy. They still have all those other tools in there, don't they? (Mark) Carrier, (Gary) Anderson and (Ron) Hall and those people. They're still there, aren't they? Well, if (Perkins) wants to be real nice, tell him to take them all out."