Bucs P Tupa To Serve As Fourth-String QB

June 13 – With fourth-string quarterback Joe Hamilton likely sidelined for the entire 2002 season, some thought the Bucs would eventually sign another quarterback to replace him. But the Pewter Pirates didn't have to look past their own roster for another capable arm. While Tampa Bay could sign another quarterback between now and training camp, punter Tom Tupa will serve as the Bucs' fourth-string/emergency quarterback – a role he's all too familiar with.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Tupa to a one-year contract on May 10, they landed more than a punter. While Tupa expected to handle both punting and holding duties on field goals and extra points for the Pewter Pirates, placing him into the quarterback rotation was not part of the original plan. But after fourth-string QB Joe Hamilton suffered what was likely a season-ending ACL injury last month, the Bucs opted not to sign another quarterback and instead chose to depend on Tupa to fill in as the team's fourth-string/emergency quarterback.

"He (Tupa) is going to take some snaps in this mini-camp before it's over and it will be done in an emergency situation," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "Tom doesn't know when he's going to be asked to go in and take a snap or two. But he's got a game plan of about 35 plays and he's studying those. He'll technique those a little bit in individual periods. He'll come into the practice just as he would come into a game. It will be a very difficult situation and he'll be asked to execute. We have a plan for Tom and he's delivered in that role in the past. "

Tupa has made his mark in the National Football League as a punter, where he's averaged 43.8 yards per punt over his 14-year career, but the quarterback position is one Tupa is very familiar with.

"I've been doing that (playing both punter and quarterback) for a while," said Tupa. "(Bill) Parcells had me doing that a lot. On game day, he'd put me as the No. 2 quarterback to save roster spots. So, I've been doing that for most of my years punting."

Tupa started his career with the Phoenix Cardinals in 1989 and has appeared in 129 NFL games. In addition to his one-year stint with the Cardinals, Tupa has punted for Cleveland (1994-95), New England (1996-98) and the New York Jets (1999-2001). From 1988-91, Tupa spent time as a quarterback for the Cardinals, starting 13 games. He completed 234 of 455 passes for 3,075 yards, with nine touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He was a backup passer for Indianapolis (1992) and Cleveland (1993) before he became the Browns' punter in 1994. Tupa's career passing totals include 258 completions out of 504 attempts (51.5 percent) for 3,421 yards with 12 touchdowns and 24 picks.

Tupa is probably best known for his September 14, 1999 performance with the New York Jets, where he replaced starting QB Vinny Testaverde, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury early in the second quarter against the New England Patriots. After the Jets lost Testaverde, Tupa engineered a comeback from a 27-16 deficit, but fell just short of a victory over the Patriots, 30-28.

Tupa is willing to do what's asked of him in Tampa Bay, but by no means does he want to actually see action as the Bucs' quarterback during the regular season. After all, in order for Tupa to take snaps, Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and Shaun King would all have to suffer injuries. But Tupa will prepare as if he could line up under center in an emergency situation on any given play.

"I'm just sitting in on the meetings and trying to keep up on the installation and all that," said Tupa. "Whatever he (Gruden) decides will be it, but I'm in there learning and trying to keep up right now."

While Tampa Bay likes what Tupa brings to the table, don't rule out the possibility of Tampa Bay adding another quarterback to its roster between now and the start of training camp.

Gruden has expressed an interest in brining his brother, Jay, who coached the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators for five years and currently plays quarterback for the team, aboard as an assistant coach with the Bucs. But Jay Gruden has passed on his brother's job offers in order to continue playing at the quarterback position. But if Jon Gruden can't convince his brother to join his coaching staff in Tampa Bay, would the Bucs' head coach consider offering Jay a backup quarterback position?

"With Tupa being a fourth arm, I'm hoping I can bring my brother into the coaching ranks and maybe he can be a gun for us if we need him," Gruden said with a smile."

Jay Gruden played six seasons with the Tampa Bay Storm, leading the team to a 68-13 overall record as the team's starting quarterback and four ArenaBowl championships. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 17,468 yards, 318 touchdowns and 88 interceptions. Gruden has completed a career-high 72.4 percent of his passes and has thrown 38 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with the Predators this season.

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