The Buccaneers performed a lot of changes in both the front office and the coaching staff this offseason, but as it seems, the problems at the most important position of the game endure.
The QB position in Tampa Bay has been in turmoil for a while now. Since Brad Johnson and the Super Bowl win, the Bucs have been struggling hard to find some consistency in that position. From 2003 up to now, there have been six starters.
This list includes the likes of Tim Rattay and Bruce Gradkowski (both will not be missed), as well as the same Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, and Luke McCown.
The team has had fair success leaning on the arms of Chris Simms and Jeff Garcia, both of whom led the Bucs to the postseason, but the first had a ruptured spleen, and the second one, after a Pro Bowl season, was even benched, and both ended up being released.
The lack of some much-needed stability in the most important position in football is one of the reasons Jon Gruden is not on the team anymore. After a 2008 season of constant changes, in which Griese and Garcia started games, and Luke McCown also saw a little playing time, consistency looks still far off.
Furthermore, in last week’s draft the team added yet another QB to the mix—one more to take place in the open, and crowded, competition for the starting job entering the 2009 season.
This leaves us with five QBs in a declared open competition: Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Josh Johnson, Brian Griese, and now rookie Josh Freeman.
Here’s a breakdown on what’s to come.
Drafted by the Broncos in the 1998 Draft, Griese took over as the starter in 1999 after John Elway retired and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000, when he had a passer rating of 102.9. After two more average years, in which he threw a total of 34 interceptions, Griese was released by the Broncos, ending up in Miami, where he only played five games.
Then came his first stint with the Buccaneers, and he performed well, providing a jump start to the Tampa offense. Griese helped them to their only victories in 2004 with a 97.5 QB rating and to a 5-1 record in 2005.
However, once again Brian went down with an injury, this time a torn ACL. Griese was cut by the Buccaneers in 2006 after the injury to his knee in order to free up money for the salary cap.
After being released in 2006 by the Bucs, Griese signed a five-year contract with Chicago, serving mostly as a backup to Rex Grossman in his first year. In his second season with the Bears, Griese was given the starting position after Grossman struggled, but with another knee injury, he lost his job back to Grossman. He played in seven games that season, throwing for 1,803 yards and 10 TDs, but 12 INTs.
In 2008 he was traded back to Tampa Bay for an undisclosed draft pick in the '09 Draft and was given the starting job after Jeff Garcia went down in the first week. He started five games last season, throwing for 1,073 yards, five TDs and seven INTs.
At 34, Griese has shown he can be a leader, but his lack of arm strength, high percentage of interceptions, and his inability to stay healthy kept him from establishing himself in command of an offense in the NFL. Griese is a calm veteran who has shown he can be a great backup, and maybe even a decent starter IF he can stay healthy.
Will be given the backup/mentor role.
Known for his rocket arm out of Marshall, he was drafted seventh overall by the Jaguars in 2003.
Leftwich was given the starting job in week four of his rookie year when Mark Brunell went down due to injury. In the 2005 season, he showed a lot of promise, starting 11 games with a QB rating of 89.3, but he broke his ankle and missed the five last games of the season. He came back for the playoffs, but the Jaguars lost to the Patriots.
In 2006 Leftwich remained as the team’s starter but had another ankle injury in week four and lost the rest of the season. After his injury, Leftwich was replaced by David Garrard and finally cut in September 2007.
He spent a year with the Atlanta Falcons, in which he sprained his ankle once again, and when healthy again lost his starting job to Joey Harrington, of all people, and ended up being released. Even he admits that his time in Atlanta was an anomaly, as he stated, "I give myself a mulligan for that year.”
He played well when called upon, appearing in five games, completing 21 of 36 attempts for 303 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 104.3 passer rating, in addition to rushing for one touchdown. He earned a ring as the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Leftwich is known to be a good leader and a true competitor, having played through injuries and illness, and even playing after breaking his shin. The image of Leftwich being carried after a completion has become iconic for compassion teammates show.
Byron possesses a laser arm, being able to make all the throws, but his release is in slow motion, and he is like a statue in the pocket.
It is also reported that he locks his vision in the primary target and never looks to the others. His injury problems are also an issue. Overall, his career numbers are not bad, with a QB rating of 80.3 and a TD-INT ratio of 54-38.
Leftwich can be a good starter, if healthy, but for that he needs a very good O-line, since he can’t move.
The one taking the snaps in Week One.
McCown is taken as a great all-around athlete, with a laser arm as a complement.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2004 Draft by the Cleveland Browns, he played in five games (four starts) during his rookie year, scoring a 52.6 QB rating. In 2005 he was traded to the Bucs and never saw any action until Week 13 of the 2007 season.
Taking over for the injured Jeff Garcia, McCown played really well, passing for 313 yards and two TDs with no INTs.
Luke played in the next four games (starting three of them), finishing up the season with some pretty good numbers: 94 of 139 for 1,009 yards (67.6 percent), with five TDs, three INTs, and a 91.7 QB rating. He also rushed 12 times for 117 yards. In 2008 McCown got to play in only two games and attempted only one pass.
It’s hard not to like McCown’s potential. When he got a chance to play, he did a good job.
Luke is a leader by example, as he is an extremely hard worker. He handled himself very well during all the rumors involving Jay Cutler going to the Bucs, presenting a very ethical and professional poise.
However, it is unknown if he is able to lead an offense down the stretch, and the fact that his big brother is a bust doesn’t really help.
McCown may hold the most short-term upside of the five, is a good athlete, and has the respect of his teammates, so he can be a good starter, but he has proven nothing yet and would be a gamble.
Will be given playing time in case Leftwich struggles.
With a prolific collegiate career playing in the FCS, Johnson was drafted by the Buccaneers in the fifth round in the 2008 Draft. He is yet to take a snap in the NFL regular season.
Johnson is a great athlete. In his combine he posted a 4.55 forty-yard dash. Scouting reports stated that he has great footwork, good leadership abilities, and possesses good vision.
On the down side are his weak arm and poor mechanics, as well as his lack of smart decisions on the field, besides the fact that he has no experience whatsoever.
Cut after the preseason.
A junior in Kansas State, Freeman elected to enter the 2009 Draft and was eventually picked by Tampa Bay with the 17th overall pick.
A prototype NFL QB at 6'6" and 250 pounds, Freeman completed 680 passes for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in 35 career games. He has a school-record 8,427 total yards.
Freeman has that Big Ben ability to break tackles and has good mobility for his size. He showed huge personality as he took his college team over as a true freshman and never lost his starting job.
Nevertheless, scouts questioned his mechanics, and almost all of them supported the idea that Freeman is too much of a work in progress, that he should have stayed for his senior year.
This guy has got the tools: a big arm, great size, and good mobility. However, his lack of victories at the collegiate level generates doubts about his ability to win games at the pro level.
A year or two holding a clipboard and working his mechanics before he takes over as the franchise QB (and proves to everybody—or not—that he’s worth the pick).
So, how will it play out? Will this time be any different?