Gradkowski Gets Rude Welcome To NFL
For rookie Bruce Gradkowski, it's all about appearances. He was in mid-sentence answering a question about the Bucs' offensive struggles Sunday when he realized he was showing a little too much skin. "Oh man, let me throw a shirt on real quick," Gradkowski said as television cameras surrounded him. "My mom might see this."

Gradkowski also knows how his entering Sunday's 27-0 loss to the Ravens late in the fourth quarter appears - that starting quarterback Chris Simms was benched in favor of the rookie. "It's not like this is a quarterback controversy or anything," Gradkowski said. "Chris is the man and it was just kind of like they wanted to see what I could do against a real defense out there."

Turns out, about as much as Simms managed. Gradkowski played in the Bucs' final two series, entering the game with 7:17 remaining, and completed just one of his five passes. It was more playing time than Gradkowski thought he'd see in the regular-season opener. He knew as the designated No. 2 quarterback, ahead of veteran Tim Rattay, he was a snap away from having to go in.

As soon as Simms threw his third interception of the game, offensive line coach Bill Muir told Gradkowski to practice some snaps with center John Wade. "But he also said, 'This doesn't mean you're going in,'" Gradkowski said. "Then all of sudden I heard, 'Bruce, Bruce, grab your helmet.'"

And almost as suddenly as the Bucs were down 27-0, the Bucs' sixth-round draft pick, who lit up the preseason, was making his NFL debut. He had watched from the sideline for most of the game, his view virtually the same as anyone else's watching the game.

He said he saw some things from the offense, some missed opportunities here and there. "There were plays out there that we could make that maybe we didn't," he said. "It's the way the game goes sometimes. There were a couple of fluke things. We get a ball tipped and they pick it. Sometimes the ball gets tipped and just falls on the ground. That's a tough break."

He empathizes with Simms. Gradkowski hasn't been in the league very long, but he's learned early on that there are going to be days like Sunday. He had his in the third preseason game against Jacksonville, when he threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away.

All three of Simms' turnovers Sunday turned into Baltimore points. Simms' interceptions led to 17 of the Ravens' 27 points. "We'll put this behind us [today]," Wade said. "We'll look at it, study it in depth, because if we don't fix it, we'll see the same thing all year from every team. I'm not happy, obviously. We've got to study this tape hard and take a good look at it."

As the team prepares to move on, Gradkowski expects to return to the sideline. He harbors no illusions of replacing Simms as the starter. There likely will be crazy fans on message boards clamoring for Simms to be benched in favor of the rookie, but his shot Sunday was born out of special circumstances.

"Chris is the man out here," Gradkowski said. "The game just got out of hand. It was just a different look, nothing big. It just made me look at how much faster I have to play and learn the system even more and just get after it each and every week."

As for the thunderous applause from those remaining at Raymond James Stadium when his name was announced, Gradkowski heard you. "I wish I could have done more," he said.

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 11 September 2006