TAMPA - It was still too early Wednesday to know who will be the Bucs quarterback in New Orleans on Sunday. It was not too early to know who probably won't be their quarterback.
Though Bucs coach Jon Gruden refused to tip his hand, it appears Bruce Gradkowski will not get a chance to redeem himself after a non-productive relief outing last week against Washington.
Instead, the Bucs appeared Wednesday to be leaning toward starting the relatively unknown and untested Luke McCown should Jeff Garcia's aching back prohibit him from playing.
While Garcia skipped the workout to have treatment on his back, McCown got the greater share of the snaps two days after Gruden said during his radio show that he would give the bulk of those snaps to the projected starter.
But if starting McCown is the Bucs' plan, they're not saying. Hoping the uncertainty regarding their quarterback may actually give them an edge, the Bucs are trying to keep their best to keep their plans a secret.
"We might not want everybody to know what we're doing - you know what I mean," said Gruden, who would only acknowledge Wednesday to giving Gradkowski and McCown practice snaps.
"I think there is something to the unknown because what do they prepare for?" Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said. "Is it going to be a Jeff Garcia game plan? Well, if Garcia plays, then it will be. But if Jeff doesn't play, then what do you prepare for? I think keeping it a little unsure can be a good thing strategically from our standpoint."
McCown and Gradkowski played along Wednesday, neither saying which one got the greater share of snaps during what amounted to two walk-through workouts. All that's known for sure is that Garcia didn't take any snaps.
He spent the day attending meetings, studying the Saints and getting treatment on his back. He also did not sound like a player who was close to getting back on the field anytime soon.
"Right now, I'm not ready to test my back in that sort of way," Garcia said when asked if he was close to returning to practice. "I don't think that would be a smart move on my behalf. To go out there and try to run around would create a negative effect instead of a positive one."
Garcia said two days ago that his back was so sore that he could not even attempt to throw a ball. He reiterated that point Wednesday, but added that his limitations go far beyond that.
"Throwing the ball is the least of my concerns right now," Garcia said. "It's more the normalcy of playing the quarterback position, of getting away from the center, getting into my drop, being able to turn and hand off.
"All those things that challenge your back in certain ways, that's really where my predicament is. I can rotate side to side. It's front and back where I'm having the issues right now."
Garcia refused to rule himself out of the game, and all involved said it likely will come down to a game-time decision. The only problem is that it could make it harder for a reserve to excel.
Hackett pointed out, though, that part of a backup's job is to go in at a moment's notice and play at a high level. Gradkowski's failure to do that is apparently one reason the Bucs may be leaning toward starting McCown this week.
After taking over for Garcia five plays into the Washington game, Gradkowski failed to take full advantage of several great scoring chances while completing nine of 19 throws for 106 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
"I was happy with the overall," Hackett said in evaluating Gradkowski's performance. "But my goodness gracious, there were half a dozen plays you would love to think that at this stage he would make those plays. I think that was the disappointing thing. The guy who is in that role has to come in and slam the door in that situation. If you don't slam the door, then you're suspect."
McCown is suspect, but for a different reason. He has played one game for the Bucs since coming to them in a trade with Cleveland in 2005 and has played in six NFL games during his four-year career.
"Not to me he isn't," Hackett said when asked if McCown was an unknown. "I saw his senior tape at Louisiana Tech. I got on the table and screamed to trade for him from Cleveland. But as far as performing in a game here, he's played a little in the preseason and that's it."
McCown said lack of playing time shouldn't be a problem.
"We'll just have to see," he said. "I had plenty of time in the preseason. I wouldn't use that as an excuse anyway."