Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gruden Not Into Long-Term Relationships With QBs
LAKE BUENA VISTA - General Manager Bruce Allen and Coach Jon Gruden won't say it, so Jeff Garcia's teammates said it instead. "We already have a Pro Bowl quarterback ... why would we need Brett Favre?" Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "Now we have our team," safety Jermaine Phillips said of Garcia's presence at training camp. "Everybody's here and we can roll." When Gruden and Garcia walked onto the field together Monday morning, what was not said between them became an intriguing story line as Tampa Bay's incumbent starting quarterback arrived at camp after a two-day excused absence.Garcia, who made the Pro Bowl after leading the Buccaneers to an NFC South title in 2007, took the bulk of the snaps and appeared in command - still unsure whether Favre is poised to replace him under center. Allen has gone underground since players reported Friday, while Gruden is growing increasingly agitated with the constant barrage of Favre questions. "I don't think I should have to comment," Garcia said after looking sharp during passing drills. "Those things are out of my hands. I was the starting quarterback and I am the starting quarterback." But for how long? Speculation about Favre's imminent trade to Tampa Bay is generating a media frenzy and Bucs management has responded primarily with silence. Garcia, already upset with his contract situation, tries to focus on football, even while Favre's immense shadow lingers over the Disney complex. "I'm willing to bet you that Jeff Garcia has played the underdog role all his life," said Bucs personnel executive Doug Williams, a former NFL quarterback who once felt underappreciated. "It makes it real easy for him. He's got experience being the underdog." Garcia endured a long, weary day of travel Sunday, returning to Florida from Gilroy, Calif., where he attended a reunion of his father's junior college football championship team. He arrived at the club's Celebration Hotel well into the evening, but Garcia's energy level soared when he hit the field as displayed his characteristic enthusiasm at morning practice, joking with teammates. "He didn't miss anything today," guard Davin Joseph said. "Brett Favre has never even been an issue as far as this offensive line is concerned. Our guy is No. 7. That's our guy." Garcia, 38, is one of the league's more nimble quarterbacks, but even he can't outrun incessant rumors he is about to be summarily replaced as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback. "You would think there would come a time, as a player, to where you feel you've established yourself at a certain level, where there aren't any more questions about your abilities," Garcia said. "Obviously, those questions are still out there. "It's been an uphill battle for me throughout my career in getting people to appreciate what I can do on the field. If it means I have to fight that battle again, first of all, it's nothing new for me. Does it get old after a while? Yes, it does." The notion of Favre wearing a Tampa Bay uniform stokes Garcia's competitive nature. "I'm the starter here and I'm going to choke it to death," he said, "until someone pulls my grip off of it." Garcia completed 64 percent of his pass attempts and threw only four interceptions in 13 starts last season as Tampa Bay rebounded from a 4-12 disaster, prompting ownership to grant Allen and Gruden three-year contract extensions. Six months later, Garcia hasn't been personally reassured of his status by the men who make the decisions. "Whether they need to do that or not, I'm not expecting them to," Garcia said. But as former Beach Boy Brian Wilson once asked, wouldn't it be nice? "You guys have known them longer than me and you know how you get or don't get answers out of them," Garcia said. "You know how they are." New quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who worked with Garcia in San Francisco and Detroit, welcomed the 10-year veteran back to the storm center. "A lot of people when the contract issue came up viewed Jeff as a disgruntled guy, but he's a professional," Olson said. "He has a ton of pride and he's a very competitive person, but don't mistake that for being disgruntled. He wants to be here. He wants to be a Buccaneer and he wants to finish his career right here." Through the years, Tampa Bay is typically listed as a probable destination for any veteran quarterback who becomes available. Garcia was asked for an explanation. "Jon Gruden hasn't given you an answer yet?" he said. "He loves quarterbacks, but he likes to just date. He doesn't like to marry."
Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833 or [email protected]