TAMPA - Quarterbacks Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski once were competing for the opportunity to back up Jeff Garcia.
Now both are fighting to remain on Tampa Bay's roster.
If Garcia resolves his contract dispute before this season, he once again will be the No. 1 quarterback. Brian Griese was signed to back up Garcia and give Coach Jon Gruden a solid veteran option. Tampa Bay used its fifth-round draft pick to select San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, who will be given years to develop.
Chris Simms has been rumored to be cut or traded since last year's training camp, but he's still on the roster.
Since the Bucs intend to invite five quarterbacks to training camp, either McCown or Gradkowski likely will be the odd man out.
"Nobody is politicking here. Nobody is running for office," McCown said. "This is about competition. This is about winning ballgames. They will put the best guys on the field."
McCown gave his best effort last season when called upon.
He appeared in five games, starting three (New Orleans, Houston and Carolina), and finished with a 1-2 record as a starter. McCown completed 94 of 139 passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions, but his biggest achievement occurred against New Orleans.
Starting in place of the injured Garcia, McCown threw 15 straight completions against the Saints, tying Steve DeBerg for the Bucs' single-game record. He completed 29 of 37 for 313 yards and two touchdowns, and led Tampa Bay to a 27-23 division win in arguably the Bucs' most important victory last season.
Although McCown showed potential, the coaching staff apparently thought his performances were not good enough to enter this season as Garcia's incumbent backup, as evidenced by Griese's return.
"I'm going into my fourth year with the Bucs and it's come to be expected here a little bit to not have a guaranteed position," McCown said. "Not just at the quarterback position, but they bring in running backs and receivers every year to compete. Coach Gruden feels like that's the best way to get the best out of a player and I would agree with him.
"There hasn't been many times in my football career, be it high school, college or pro that I'm not competing for a spot, for a job, for something. For me, it's been expected. I almost look forward to it."
Looking forward is the only thing Gradkowski can do.
Gradkowski saw action against Washington last season after Garcia was injured and completed nine of 19 passes for 106 yards in Tampa Bay's 19-13 victory. He struggled in that performance, which led Gruden to name McCown as a starter the following week against New Orleans.
As a rookie starter in 2006, Gradkowski's record was 3-8, with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's optimistic his struggles are behind him.
"I definitely feel like I have improved," Gradkowski said. "Three years is a long time, and coming into my third year in the system, a lot of things are coming more naturally to me. I trust myself more and play with more confidence.
"I just kind of want to be treated more like a veteran would be and not a young guy. I feel like if I can start here as a rookie, I can be out there playing. ... I'm not saying they take it light on me, but just approaching it. If I'm not getting the job done, let me know because it's time for me to get it done. I like when the coaches are hard and not light on me."
Gradkowski knows the hardest obstacle for him and McCown could be getting enough reps to win over Tampa Bay's coaching staff. That's why both are actively participating in organized team activities this offseason.
Even so, Gradkowski is not receiving many reps. During the final OTA in May, Gradkowski was the only quarterback not to take a snap.
"You get to the point where you wonder if there are too many quarterbacks to have an opportunity to compete," Gradkowski said. "That's some things you worry about, but that's out of my control. All I can do is worry about what I do when I get my shot."
Gruden wants to give every quarterback a chance, but Gradkowski's seemingly will occur after everyone else.
"We've really revved up Garcia. We're really revved up Brian Griese because he's getting reoriented here," Gruden said. "The promise of McCown is real. We've tried to get him his turns. We hope Bruce and Josh will pick up their reps in the upcoming weeks."
The reality is they will pick up their reps or turn in their playbooks. Either way, both are fighting for a chance to back up Garcia and only one may survive.
"That's competition and it brings out the best in everybody," McCown said. "You won't find a guy on this team that will shy away from competition. That's what makes the Buccaneers who we are. That's why we have high expectations this year. It's our confidence level, and the competition we have will push everybody to be their best."