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It all starts with his feet

Bruce Gradkowski doesn't have the strongest arm in the NFL. Not even close.

"No. He's not probably a guy who's going to win a long drive contest," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of his quarterback.

But it's Gradkowski's feet that also have been responsible for him underthrowing receiver Joey Galloway this season.

Let's explain.

Take Gradkowski's first-quarter interception in a 38-10 loss Thursday against the Cowboys. Galloway was streaking free behind the defense for what appeared to be a sure touchdown.

But Gradkowski took a five-step drop - even though the play called for a three-step drop - causing the pass to be late. As Galloway waited, safety Roy Williams had time to run under it and intercept the pass at the Cowboys 25.

The turnover led to the second of five touchdown passes by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to give them a 14-7 lead.

"You know, it's really not so much arm strength as it is footwork sometimes," Gruden said. "When it's a three-step drop, it's three steps. It's not three plus two. It's one, two, three, hitch, throw. Sometimes he doesn't get his feet set properly and he becomes late with the ball. And that's been an issue a couple of the deep throws, his footwork.

"But he has a good arm and he's a guy who can throw the ball deep and accurately deep. In the last three games, there's two or three clear-cut opportunities we've left out there."

Gradkowski said he didn't even realize the mistake until he saw it on film several days later.

"I didn't think I did that in the game," Gradkowski said. "I look back on film and it's like, 'Oh, man, that's why it felt wrong.' It was supposed to be a little quicker and I went deeper. It felt good in the game, then I realized that's why. That's a positive thing to take from it, is if I just continue to be more disciplined and take coaching and try to get better, I have to hit those."

Gradkowski finished just 10-of-20 passing for 120 yards and was intercepted twice, the second of which bounced off the hands of running back Michael Pittman.

"I thought the opening drive was spectacular," Gruden said. "That's exactly what you need to do on the road against a good defensive team. We went 80 yards or whatever it was. He had a couple throws I think he missed, unfortunately. But it's a 14-10 game. I think we had 190 or 195 yards in the first half and we feel good about ourselves. There's some real confidence, there's some real good things.

"There's some things he did I'm really pleased with and there's some things he obviously needs to work at. What can I say? That's why we keep working."

Of course, there is a reason why Gradkowski lasted until the sixth round. At 6 feet 1, his size was a factor.

He set an NCAA record by completing more than 70 percent of his passes in consecutive seasons. But if there was a rap against Gradkowski, it was that scouts questioned his ability to throw the deep ball.

Gradkowski insists he has plenty of arm.

"I can throw it 60, 65 yards. But you never just stand there and throw it," Gradkowski said.

"I don't think arm strength is involved too much. We have some routes where Galloway is going deep where you have to have the arm strength to do it. But in my case, I don't think the arm strength is a challenge. It's just like I said, the rhythm, the timing that I throw it in."

According to Gruden, it's not unlike the situation he experienced with Rich Gannon at Oakland.

"I know Rich didn't have the greatest of arms and we struggled sometimes getting the ball to James Jett deep," Gruden said.

"There's a lot to it. And they always say the down-the-field throws are low percentage throws. We've got a guy who can really get deep and strategically you want to send him, especially with some of the looks we've been seeing. It's just something you've got to hope continues to throw.

"We've been pushing it pretty good the last two or three games. We hit a couple. We hit one in the opening series against Dallas and we missed a couple. But he's got to have his feet in order, and the ball has got to come out on time, and unfortunately, a couple times it hasn't."

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