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'Noteworthy’ Ryan Griffin is the NFL’s best preseason quarterback

This year he’s learning a new offense under Bruce Arians but still stuck as the team’s No. 3
Ryan Griffin (4) has become the Bucs' Mr. Preseason. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) [MARK LOMOGLIO | AP]
Published Aug. 21
Updated Aug. 22

TAMPA — He’s the Bucs’ third-string quarterback.

Again.

Still No. 4 in your program, zero in your heart and in career games played during the regular season.

Ryan Griffin, or RGIV, is having the best August of any passer in the National Football League.

Again.

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He leads the NFL in passing yards (531), and is tied for sixth in passer rating (99.2) and yards per attempt (8.3).

In the Bucs’ 16-14 win over the Dolphins on Friday, Griffin led a drive in 28 seconds to set up Matt Gay’s winning 48-yard field goal. It was the third time he closed out a half with points this preseason.

But Griffin has no chance of unseating Jameis Winston or Blaine Gabbert, QB1 and QB2, who were pulled from the first two preseason games after one series each because coach Bruce Arians feared that an injury to either could be catastrophic.

So Griffin, mop in hand, is cleaning up like he usually does this time of year, and getting more snaps of almost any quarterback in the preseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) looks to pass during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa, Florida on Monday, August 5, 2019. OCTAVIO JONES | Times ["OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times]

“I’ve been getting a ton,’’ Griffin said. “It’s been great. Been chucking it around, too. I’m all about it.’’

Arians knew little about Griffin when he took the Bucs job in January. Gabbert has been his backup guy since the quarterback played for him with the Cardinals. And the plan was probably to keep Mississippi State rookie Nick Fitzgerald as the No. 3 and also use him as a receiver, on special teams and as a punt protector.

Then Fitzgerald suffered a hamstring injury playing beach volleyball just before training camp began.

Griffin once again has gotten everyone’s attention. Keep in mind, his success has come against a lot of players who won’t be on an NFL roster in a week or so.

“(Griffin) has gotten better and better,’’ Arians said. “And I don’t care who you’re playing with. When you do the things he’s done in the two-minute (drives), it’s noteworthy.’’

Griffin, who turns 30 in November, has developed a pretty good chemistry with tight end Tanner Hudson, who spent time on the practice squad last season. Hudson accounted for all 45 yards on the winning drive Friday when he hooked up twice with Griffin.

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“I’ve worked with (Hudson) a ton, knowing there are certain looks … like the first pass,’’ Griffin said. “(The Dolphins) had two-man (zone on the late drive), and I knew Tanner was going to be right where he was, so I was able to rip it. Then the last (reception), I just knew he was going to get open because he always gets open.’’

That’s sort of what Griffin’s career has been. Every time you think he’s tired of having the cleanest uniform, he goes out in the preseason and muddies everyone’s plans.

By now you should know his story by heart. Undrafted out of Tulane, he spent time on and off the Saints’ practice squad. The past five years, Griffin has been in Tampa Bay and carved out a decent living, having made more than $4 million not playing in the NFL on game day. Griffin may have won the backup job over Ryan Fitzpatrick two years ago had he not suffered a shoulder injury in a preseason game at Cincinnati.

Basically, Griffin’s job is to run the opponent’s offense in practice. So he’s less focused on being a Bucs quarterback during the week than he is being Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

It’s great work if you can get it, and about two-thirds of the teams carry only two quarterbacks, meaning these jobs are hard to earn. Mostly, teams are looking for an experienced backup. But it’s the same repetitive dilemma. How does Griffin get experience if nobody will play him?

Experience is what Gabbert offers. He has started 48 of the 56 games he has played in his eight-year NFL career, including five for Arians with the Cardinals in 2017, winning two.

“Yeah, I got a ton of confidence in Blaine,’’ Arians said. “He won some games for us and big games against teams that went to the playoffs that year. It’s only the second time he’s been in the same offense in nine years, so he’s got that recall, (and) he’s played at full speed for us.’’

This preseason, Gabbert has attempted only 20 passes, primarily because Arians got cold feet after watching Eagles backup Nate Sudfeld break his left wrist on Aug. 8.

This preseason Gabbert has attempted only 20 passes, primarily because Arians got cold feet after watching Eagles backup Nate Sudfeld break his left wrist in a game Aug. 8.

Arians compared Griffin to Kelly Holcomb, who began his career with the Bucs in 1995 as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State. He appeared in only five games in six years before he landed in Cleveland with Arians as the offensive coordinator in 2002-03, starting 10 games.

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“Normally, when a guy has been in the same system, he can really function for you,’’ Arians said. “Kelly Holcomb wasn’t quite that long, but it took him a few years to get his opportunity. Then every time he played he threw for 400 (yards). (Griffin is) probably the same type of guy.’’

We may never find out. No coach is a bigger fan of Griffin than former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who was fired after last season after four years with the team (one as offensive coordinator), yet he never saw fit to wipe that asterisk off Griffin’s resume. Not one snap for a kneel down at the end of a game. Not when the Bucs were trailing the Bears 45-3 in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field last season.

Griffin is just happy for the snaps he has received in a new offense under Arians.

“Every rep’s been great. I’m getting a chance to run our stuff, which is different,” Griffin said. “There are different ways that we want to approach each play. So every rep’s got to count, and I want to make the most of each of them.”

Lord knows, if he ever does get into a regular season game, he’ll be prepared.

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