Garcia's confidence is growing

Crisp, efficient passes that lead receivers to easy catches. Quiet leadership. And just enough confidence to turn away questions about another veteran quarterback acquired the same day he signed his two-year contract. Yes, Jeff Garcia appears to be the quarterback Jon Gruden envisioned he would be after signing him three months ago.

This must be what Jon Gruden envisioned when he signed Jeff Garcia to a free-agent contract in March.

Crisp, efficient passes that lead receivers to easy catches. Quiet leadership. And just enough confidence to turn away questions about another veteran quarterback acquired the same day he signed his two-year contract.

"Whatever he (Jake Plummer) wants to do, he can come over here and sit the bench, too," Garcia said after Tuesday morning's mandatory workout.

The Garcia that Gruden got appears to be the one he'd hoped for — at least right now.

"I love Garcia," Gruden said. "I like what he's doing a lot. I just thing he has some traits that we haven't had around here — his mobility, his experience, he's been very good here."

Garcia is not the starter — at least not officially. Gruden hasn't anointed him as such. But he is the front-runner for the job, and all the evidence needed to confirm that was on display on Tuesday.

Of the five quarterbacks in mini-camp, Garcia was without a doubt the sharpest. He took first team reps in every drill and did an efficient job of leading receivers toward catchable balls. He looked a lot like the quarterback who led Philadelphia to the playoffs last year, and not the one who languished in Detroit and Cleveland the two seasons before that.

He found Ike Hilliard on a 15-yard out, with two defenders around the receiver, and crisply floated the ball where only Hilliard could catch it. Later, Garcia had a touchdown pass denied by rookie corner Tanard Jackson, who made an exceptional play in coverage of wide receiver Maurice Stovall.

Garcia's play made it clear. You want to be No. 1? The line starts behind him.

"I'm striving to be the top quarterback out here, to be the starter, (so) it's natural that you take on a leadership role," Garcia said. "So it's OK for me to not just be vocal but to show things through my work ethic, lead by example and lead by the things that I've overcome on the field and how I approach the game."

Tampa Bay's checkered track record at quarterback under Gruden is no secret. He's been through seven starters in five years, from a Super Bowl champion in Brad Johnson to an in-over-his-head rookie like Bruce Gradkowski. Gruden's demand, he said earlier this offseason, is to find that quarterback that can be a superstar at the position.

It's difficult to believe that, at age 37, that Garcia would be that guy. Tampa Bay, ultimately, needs a long-term solution. But Gruden's job is believed to be on the line this season, and Garcia gives the head coach his best-possible chance to win now.

Garcia's presence at camp echoes Gruden's mentoring of another solid veteran, Rich Gannon, who came to Gruden in Oakland and enjoyed a career rebirth, culminating in being named the NFL's most valuable player.

"I'm accused of not liking young players," Gruden said. "I just like good quarterbacks like everyone else in this league. I like guys that make plays a number of ways, whether it's by experience, seeing a look and not running the ball into a corner blitz and making a change at the line of scrimmage; A guy that can create with his legs, a guy that works the pocket, can throw the ball in congested areas and be accurate. He's a leader and a consistent performer.

"Garcia is a guy we coveted. We made no secret of that the last few years. He's in great shape, he's going a good job and I don't want to jinx him because he's got a long way to go. But we do like his progress and we think he has a nice future here."

So the Bucs thought it vital to get Garcia in the offseason program as soon as possible after his signing on March 7. Garcia, for his part, traveled plenty from his home in California, and even worked voluntary workouts around his wedding and his honeymoon.

He wants his reactions on game day to come without thought. That comes from knowing the playbook inside and out and understanding the weapons he has and what they can do.

His leadership, he said, is borne from experience and overcoming his route to the NFL, via the CFL, and two lost seasons in Detroit and Cleveland before his renaissance last season in Philadelphia.

It's not lost on Garcia that Philly head coach Andy Reid runs a form of the West Coast Offense that Gruden employs. In fact, Garcia has spent all but one of his nine NFL seasons in a West Coast-type offense.

"I think it's right up my alley," Garcia said of the offense. "I think we're going to do anything and everything that will allow me to be productive in this system. That means moving the quarterback. That means utilizing the West Coast system and what it all brings as far as progression is concerned. Being able to go through my No. 1 to my No. 3 receiver. I think those are things that I do well. I'm accurate with the football. I feel like I make good decisions — I'm not going to turn the ball over and those are things that are important for this offense to grow and become consistent on Sundays." And consistency is something Gruden would love to finally have.

Quoteboard

Check out what Gruden said about some of the other quarterbacks in — and not in — mini-camp on Tuesday.

On Chris Simms, who was the starter last year. He is now competing for a backup spot and looked rusty in practice: "Again, he's coming off a serious injury. … But Chris' reps will increase when he earns it, when he gets back physically and when he starts moving our football team."

On Bruce Gradkowski, who looked sharper than Simms but seemed well off Garcia's skill level: "The one thing that impresses me is that this kid has a lot of grit. He has a lot of mental toughness, which is going to allow him, I think, to be a NFL quarterback. How good? We'll see."

On Plummer, who has not darkened the door of One Buc Place since his trade to Tampa Bay in March and says he's retired: "We're talking about Jake Plummer here, so we'll reserve a roster spot for the ‘Snake' for a little while longer. If it was Jake Jones or Jake Johnson or Jake Gruden, we'd probably bypass the holding pattern that we're in right now."


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.


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