TAMPA — Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia did not practice on Wednesday and told reporters that while he's making some progress from his injured back, he still isn't ready to get under center.
Will he be ready by Sunday? Garcia wants to leave the possibility open, but he admits he's only made "gradual" progress since Monday.
"Right now I'm not at that point (throwing the ball)," Garcia said. "That would not be smart on my behalf right now. I think throwing the ball like that would create a negative effect."
Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden provided no answers after practice on Wednesday, saying that he would prepare all three quarterbacks — Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown — to play on Sunday against New Orleans.
But Garcia, who has led Tampa Bay to a 7-4 record and to the doorstep of a division title, is his first choice.
"We'll expect Jeff to play and in the time being we'll get the other guys ready to go," Gruden said.
Gruden would not say who took more reps on Wednesday between McCown and Gradkowski. He said during a radio show on Monday that he wanted one quarterback to take all of the reps in practice this week.
Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said he felt McCown would probably see "slightly" more reps this week because Gradkowski has seen more reps as Garcia's primary backup.
Garcia made it clear that he wants to play. Pain is the problem. He compared the pain from the deep bruise in his back to a hip pointer. He said while he can rotate from side to side, going forward and backward is an issue.
He admitted that, if he wanted to, he could play catch. But playing the position the way he wants is another story. Things like dropping back, making full throws and playing with the mobility he usually plays with are what he's not comfortable with yet.
And that's exactly why he doesn't want to rush back.
"All of those types of things that challenge your back is my predicament right now," Garcia said.
McCown and Gradkowski both said they would prepare as if they would start on Sunday. But both actually said they expected Garcia to be ready for the game.
"Chances are just as good he'll be out there on Sunday," McCown said. "As tough as he is, I wouldn't bet against him."
McCown hasn't played since quarterbacking two possessions in the season opener at Seattle. He's 1-of-4 for 9 yards. Before that, though, he had not thrown a pass in a regular season game since his rookie year in 2004.
Gruden remained noncommittal on a starter, so McCown believes he's in the mix. And before practice on Wednesday he had no idea what the plan was.
"If you find out, let me know," McCown said jokingly.
Gradkowski, in his second year, has more game experience than McCown based on starting 11 games last year as a rookie. But he went 9-of-19 for 106 yards and failed to drive the offense to a first down in the second half on Sunday.
McCown admitted that Gradkowski had it tough because the starter — in Sunday's case Garcia — receives almost all the practice reps.
Gradkowski didn't use that as an excuse on Monday or Wednesday.
"If my number is called, I'll be ready to go," Gradkowski said. "I'm sure the coaches know what they want and just want everyone to be prepared."
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.