When Chris Simms suffered a brutal spleen injury against the Carolina Panthers in Week 3 of the 2006 season, Gradkowski was pressed into service and started very strong. In his first six games as a starter, he completed 113 of 212 attempts for 1,010 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His streak of 186 attempts with only one interception was the best to start a career by any rookie. An injury to the thumb on his right (throwing) hand against the Panthers, and the team's own offensive ineffectiveness blended with Gradkowski's inexperience to produce less than stellar results. In his last five games as a starter, he threw 62 completions in 110 attempts for 631 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. Tim Rattay started the team's final two games of the 2006 season, the Bucs finished 4-12, and Jon Gruden acquired Jeff Garcia as a veteran option for the 2007 season.
Gradkowski played little in 2007, as Garcia took command of the offense, and Luke McCown started when Garcia didn't. The Buccaneers were carrying seven quarterbacks on their books coming into the 2008 preseason, and Gradkowski was the first to get the axe. He was released on May 30.
We asked Matthew Postins, publisher of Scout.com's Tampa Bay site, BucsBlitz.com, for an extended scouting report in Gradkowski -- his positives and negatives, and what the future might hold.
From the start, I wasn't that impressed with Gradkowski. Now, he was certainly thrown into a horrible situation in 2006, having to start as a rookie. And while he had his moments, for the most part he seemed overmatched. Locals were quick to cut him some slack during the offseason due to his youth, but the real issue was his play in the 2007 victory over Washington. Gradkowski came off the bench to spell an injured Jeff Garcia and the Bucs won that game in spite of Gradkowski's shaky play. After the game, then-quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett made the comment that there were at least "four plays in that game that you would hope Bruce could make by now." The next Sunday, Luke McCown started ahead of Gradkowski.
While Gradkowski is certainly mobile and accurate, his biggest issues are arm strength and reading coverage. The latter issue can be improved. But the arm strength cannot. Gradkowski has problems throwing the ball accurately downfield outside of 25 yards, and that was a tremendous issue during his time in Tampa Bay, as the Bucs had former Seahawk Joey Galloway. Gradkowski's inability to accurately hit the speedy Galloway downfield hampered the Bucs offense in 2006 and during the Washington game last year. Reading Galloway's body language after Gradkowski underthrew him against Washington was all the proof I needed that Gradkowski's time in Tampa Bay was short.
Gradkowski was released because the Bucs have a bazillion quarterbacks and they're only taking five to training camp. Say what you want about Chris Simms, but at least he can hit Galloway downfield. Gradkowski is nothing more than a career backup who can spot start if he has time to prepare and improves his ability to read coverage.
There's no question that Gradkowski's flaws -- a tendency to rely on mobility when stability is more important, a inclination to lean on the dink-and-dunk due to arm strength concerns, and real problems with the complexity of the West Cast offense -- are common among spread offense quarterbacks. However, there are assets that separate him from those quarterbacks who find the spread-to-NFL transition hopeless. And when compared to current Seahawks third-string quarterback Charlie Frye, Gradkowski provides an interesting option.
Frye's slow release time got him booted out of Cleveland after he took five sacks in less than a half against the Steelers in September of 2007 -- an opening that allowed for the ascent of Derek Anderson -- and it was Anderson's ability to get rid of the ball quickly behind Cleveland's smaller, more athletic offensive line that provided great dividends, With the acquisition of left guard Mike Wahle, the Seahawks are transitioning to a similar line. They require fast linemen who can pull and adjust quickly to what's going on around them, and timing is a key issue. Frye might have a future behind five behemoths, but if he couldn't catch his breath behind the Browns' line, he doesn't stand much of a chance against those defenses the Seahawks may face. Gradkowski can roll out, make the quick throw, and keep time in an offense used to a quarterback without a rocket arm.
You may think to yourself, "What does it matter whether a quarterback whose middle name is 'Inactive' can’t get rid of the ball in time? If Frye's in there, the Seahawks are doomed, right?" However, there is more than meets the eye here. Frye was Seattle's Dan Quayle in 2007, the successor to David Greene in the "Let's Keep Seneca Where He Is" sweepstakes. The fear of inefficient third quarterbacks can be the only explanation for the team's unwillingness to convert Seneca Wallace to the receiver position on at least a part-time basis. With Deion Branch out of the picture for an undetermined amount of time, Bobby Engram unhappy about his future in the Emerald City, and D.J. Hackett in Carolina, it's quite possible that a group of undefined youngsters will go three-wide on a frightening percentage of snaps in Mike Holmgren's final season. Wallace provides a serious vertical threat and forces defenses to adjust -- an advantage that could counteract various personnel liabilities.
Will Bruce Gradkowski become
the next in a long line of unheralded sixth-round draft picks to find stardom
in the NFL, behind Tom Brady, Marc Bulger, Derek Anderson and some guy named
Matt Hasselbeck? Perhaps not. But the Seahawks' offense, the former juggernaut
turned question mark by questionable free agency decisions and a draft focused
on the defense since Tim Ruskell took over in 2005, could use a few aces up
its proverbial sleeve, and more depth on the roster. Gradkowski has done enough
in a limited time in an offense not unfamiliar to merit serious consideration.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.