Gruden prefers a seasoned veteran at QB

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Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden clearly likes his quarterbacks to be his contemporaries.

The Bucs signed 37-year-old Jeff Garcia as a free agent in March even though passers Chris Simms, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski — all twentysomethings and onetime NFL starters — already were on the roster.

Gruden, 43, recently named Garcia the starter over Simms, who quarterbacked the Bucs to the playoffs in 2005; Gradkowski, who took over when Simms suffered a ruptured spleen in September; and McCown.

“There’s not a lot of controversy in my eyes right now,” Gruden said last week at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Clearwater, Fla. “If you want to catch up to Jeff Garcia, our young quarterbacks have a lot of work to do. Jeff has done a great job since he’s been here. He understands the position. He’s moved offenses wherever he’s been. And right now Jeff Garcia has a big lead on the quarterback position. He brings a lot of juice and enthusiasm to our offensive team.”

When the baby-faced Gruden took over as coach of the Raiders in 1998 as a 34-year-old, his starter was Jeff George, then 30. George was succeeded in 1999 by Rich Gannon, 34. The Bucs’ quarterback was 34-year-old Brad Johnson when Gruden arrived in Tampa in 2002. Brian Griese, then 29, supplanted Johnson in 2004 before losing out to Simms in 2005.

The Bucs gave Simms a two-year, $7 million contract in December, but Garcia’s similar two-year deal could be worth twice as much if he is indeed the starter in 2007 and 2008.

Simms admitted he’s not fully recovered, putting him physically behind Garcia, who rejuvenated his career last season after ugly years with the Browns (2004) and Lions (2005).

“I’m not quite where I want to be yet … throwing the ball,” Simms told the St. Petersburg Times. “I feel fine physically. I can take a hit and run around, but I don’t have my rhythm or timing back yet.”

Here’s Brodie

With Trent Green’s long-rumored trade to the Dolphins finally a reality, Brodie Croyle is the man in Kansas City. Croyle, 24, will be the Chiefs’ youngest starting quarterback since 23-year-old Todd Blackledge in 1984.

“I like Brodie’s demeanor,” coach Herm Edwards told the Kansas City Star. “He comes across laid-back like he’s a Southern guy that’s been fishing all day. But he’s a competitor.”

Croyle, a third-round choice by the Chiefs in the 2006 draft, threw just seven passes as a rookie but finished his college career as Alabama’s all-time leader in most passing categories.

“The big question is whether or not Brodie can handle this,” Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez told the Star. “I think he will. Right now it’s a lot easier for him because the bullets aren’t live. But once they start flying around I think you’re going to see that he’s going to be a good quarterback.”

And although Croyle doesn’t have great targets to throw to other than Gonzalez, he will be able to hand off to Larry Johnson, one of the game’s top backs.

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