Garcia says he's ready for the challenge

Jon Gruden took a pass on Jeff Garcia once in 1999. He didn't make the same mistake this offseason. The Buccaneers enter Sunday's season opener against Seattle with the type of quarterback Gruden has long craved.

Nine years ago, a quarterback named Jeff Garcia walked onto a practice field in Oakland. He had spent five seasons playing for the Canadian Football League and was trying to score a spot in the NFL.

Oakland had recently signed another quarterback, Rich Gannon, so head coach Jon Gruden took a pass on the 29-year-old Garcia.

On Sunday, Gruden and Garcia will step onto the field in Seattle for Tampa's season opener. It's a production nine years in the making.

The two developed a bond and friendship as Gruden coached in Oakland; Garcia went on to quarterback the 49ers.

Gruden said he remembered "digging up" Garcia's tapes from the CFL.

"That's why we brought him in for a workout," Gruden said. "We were one of the few teams that worked him out. We did watch his tape, and we screwed it up by not signing him."

Last season, Garcia helped lead the Eagles to the playoffs; when Philadelphia didn't re-sign the free-agent quarterback, he took a trip back to Oakland on the first day of free agency. Then he made his way to Tampa.

Gruden didn't make the same mistake twice. He signed Garcia the day after he met with him.

And Gruden is expecting great things from his quarterback, starting this week in Seattle.

"He's in for a great challenge," the coach said. "This will be one of the great road trips that we ever make here. This (Qwest Stadium) is a tough place to play. It's the loudest stadium in the league, according to the guys I talk to, and they're a good team.

"I do believe Jeff will be ready, and I'm anxious to kick it off with him."

Gruden sees Garcia as the point man in an offense that will have to "make five or six great plays in this game to win it." Garcia showed during the preseason that he's not afraid to tuck the ball under his arm and run to create offense.

And Garcia has, in the past, put up some great numbers. The three-time Pro Bowler posted good numbers in San Francisco and again in Philadelphia, coming back after a couple of lackluster seasons in Cleveland and Detroit.

"I've always wanted a good quarterback, a great quarterback who can dominate," Gruden said. "I've been perfectly clear there. … He's been stellar; he's been clutch; he's been great at times."

Garcia is aware of the challenge he faces Sunday in Seattle, he said, and he's ready for the first "business trip" of the year.

"They're a well-coached football team; they have good players; they went to the Super Bowl two years ago," Garcia said. "So they're definitely a team that's probably considered one of the top in the NFC."

He also knows that Gruden will be watching with high expectations – and to see Garcia's playmaking abilities at work.

"Every team expects their quarterback to lead the team, to do great things for their team, to find a way to help the team win football games," Garcia said. "That's really the role of this position. It's a role I've been in before; it's a role that I expect out of myself."

Garcia played only seven possessions during the preseason. While Gruden is fully aware of his quarterback's skills, the rest of the world won't get a good look until Tampa takes the field in Seattle. His limited preseason snaps don't worry Garcia.

"I don't fee like it's going to be any sort of problem as far as conditioning is concerned or just the beating that you take through a full game," he said. "I think it's something that I'm very well prepared for."

So does Gruden.

"I think you'll see, we'll all see, that is a great competitor," he said. "He'll overachieve, and beside that fact, he does have a lot of talent. He's not just an overachieving survivor; he's a hell of a quarterback who's been to three Pro Bowls and is a big reason why the [San Francisco] 49ers did come back under his direction."

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