Is Tampa Bay's Starting QB Position Up For Grabs?

March 24 – Buccaneer Magazine recently had an exclusive interview with new Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden. Tampa Bay's head coach will conduct a quarterbacks camp on Monday, which will be a study session for all of the Bucs' passers, except for Joe Hamilton, who is participating in NFL Europe. Gruden's comments shed some light on what type of quarterback he prefers to run his offense, but it's what he didn't say that might surprise some Bucs fans.

Buccaneer Magazine recently had an exclusive interview with Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden at One Buccaneer Place, and the quarterback situation was one of the topics that was discussed.

Before Gruden arrived in Tampa, one could have just assumed last year's starting quarterback Brad Johnson would run Tampa Bay's offense next season, but according to Gruden's comments, or lack there of, the quarterback position might be up for grabs when the Buccaneers start training camp in mid-July.

The contestants?

Brad Johnson 6-foot-5, 226 pounds. Ten years experience in the National Football League.

Rob Johnson 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, Eight years experience in the NFL.

Shaun King 6-foot, 225 pounds. Three years experience in the NFL.

Joe Hamilton 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. Two years experience in the NFL.

Although Hamilton will be involved in the hunt, the competition for the starting and backup quarterback positions will realistically be between the Buccaneers' three other quarterbacks.

Gruden hasn't hesitated to talk about Rob Johnson and King, but he hasn't had much to say about Brad Johnson. Why?

Some started to raise questions about Gruden's interest in Brad Johnson when Tampa Bay introduced their new coach on Feb. 20. During his press conference, Gruden talked highly of King, and his comments suggested Tampa Bay's starting quarterback position could be open next season.

"I really like Shaun King," Gruden said at his press conference on Feb. 20. "When I was with the Raiders, I studied him carefully coming out of Tulane. He was the quarterback of an undefeated team and he enjoyed great success here as a winner. He's from Tampa. I think he's got some intangibles about him that are exciting. He's young, he's athletic and he makes creative plays. He's got a certain vibe about him that I respect. I'm looking forward to working with him. He's a guy that could make this whole situation real interesting."

Gruden has been quoted quite a bit since his arrival in Tampa over a month ago, but one would be hard pressed to recall many comments he has made regarding Brad Johnson. Although Buccaneer Magazine brought up the quarterback situation several times during the interview, Gruden neglected to even mention Brad Johnson's name. He did, however, discuss the addition of Rob Johnson at length.

"You can never have enough depth," said Gruden. "We've done that at quarterback with Rob Johnson. He didn't get a huge signing bonus. He came here because he wanted be in this type of system. The guy is a (61) percent career passer. He's 6-foot-4, he's got mobility, he's got a quick, strong, accurate arm, and we're going to start grinding on him on Monday and try to put him in a situation where he can spread his wings and take off."

Will Brad Johnson's lack of mobility cause Gruden to give Rob Johnson and King a closer look during the offseason mini-camps and training camp? Brad Johnson is not the most mobile quarterback in the NFL, but he is fairly accurate, especially on short and intermediate routes.

Rob Johnson is just as accurate, but he is also elusive and mobile, which may tempt Gruden to lean toward him as his starting quarterback.

King is not as accurate as Brad Johnson and Ron Johnson, but he has shown both mobility and some play-making ability.

"I think it's a winning edge (having a mobile quarterback)," Gruden said on Feb. 20. "The more things you can do, the more dangerous you are. I realize Brad Johnson might not be the reckless scrambler Rich Gannon is, but there are certain things Brad Johnson can do maybe a little better than Rich Gannon."

Brad Johnson signed a five-year, $28 million contract last offseason, which means he still has four years remaining on his contract with the Bucs. But with the acquisition of Rob Johnson, who signed a one-year contract, and King under contract for one more season, Gruden could be tempted to put Brad Johnson on the trading block.

There is also a chance that Gruden, who has expressed his guilt over Tampa Bay parting ways with draft picks in order to pry him out of Oakland, could try to trade the odd man out of the battle for the starting and backup quarterback positions so he can retrieve some of those draft selections.

"After what I've been through, I'd say nobody is untouchable (in terms of a potential trade)," said Gruden. "We've got some guys here that I'm really looking forward to working with. I can't imagine going to war without Warren Sapp. I can't imagine waiving the flag without Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. You'd have to offer a pretty good size country to get some of these guys. But anything is possible in football. Anything can happen."

No matter who Gruden decides to go with as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback, the Buccaneers have the opportunity to go into the 2002 season with three quarterbacks with starting experience in the NFL.

Gruden has stated Brad Johnson is his starting quarterback, and he might end up being the starter when it is all said and done. Maybe Gruden is just opting to express a quiet confidence in Brad Johnson.

Or perhaps Gruden doesn't want to make any promises to anyone or really favors Rob Johnson, which is the guy that he personally brought into the fold at One Buc Place.

But with all that has been said, and all that has not been said, one could come to the conclusion that Tampa Bay will have an open quarterback competition this offseason.

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