TAMPA - One thing you can say with conviction about Bucs coach Jon Gruden: As he's gotten older and more mature as a coach, he's gotten better at admitting his mistakes.
Two years ago, in the wake of a disastrous 4-12 season, Gruden admitted that sticking with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and waiting all season to turn to the more seasoned Tim Rattay was probably a mistake.
Then last year, not long after fate forced him to turn to Earnest Graham at running back, Gruden admitted that waiting so long to take a chance on Graham was indeed a mistake.
Now, by letting go of Gradkowski, who was released in a move that probably shouldn't be as surprising as some have suggested, Gruden has admitted that the whole Gradkowski project also was a mistake.
This couldn't have been easy for Gruden. You always got the feeling that Gradkowski was his pet project, that he was the raw sixth-rounder he was going to mold into the next Joe Montana.
The hard truth is, that was never going to happen. Not here, probably not anywhere. And thankfully, before it was too late not only for the Bucs but also for Gradkowski, Gruden has admitted as much.
It doesn't really do much for his reputation. Gruden has never done a truly superb job grooming young quarterbacks and now Gradkowski has been thrown onto the pile.
If I'm Josh Johnson today I'm a little worried. You get the feeling, though, that Gruden has learned from this latest mistake and that Johnson, thankfully, will be treated differently.
You get the feeling he won't see the field for years, that the Bucs will take their time with him and make sure he's ready to play at this level - when indeed he does play at this level.
Gradkowski, as a result of fate, never really got that chance. He was rushed into the lineup after Chris Simms went down with that now infamous spleen injury and now he's history.
The Bucs had little or no choice in the matter. Someone had to go, and while Gradkowski has some upside, Johnson, Luke McCown and Simms (still) have more.
And so here we are. Unless they have plans to add yet another quarterback to their collection (and that is always a possibility), the five quarterbacks who will go to camp with the Bucs this year are set.
There is Jeff Garcia, the starter, and Brian Griese, his supposed backup. Then there's Johnson, McCown and Simms, not necessarily in that order. It's an intriguing group. Largely because Simms is in it.
That he survived this cut is not a great surprise. The Bucs need to know what Simms is capable of before they determine their next move with him. The only way to do that is to see him play again. You wonder if they ever will.
Simms isn't really happy with the Bucs, save for the owners, these days. What he doesn't like is the way he's been treated since he realized he wasn't recovering from his spleen injury the way he thought he should.
For the sake of the Bucs and even himself, though, he has to put that behind him now. He needs to return to the workouts he's been skipping and show the Bucs and the rest of the world what he's capable of.
Anything else would likely be a mistake.
GAINES GAINING MOMENTUM: It has been said NFL players often improve most between their first and second year in the league. That would put DE Gaines Adams on pace for a breakout season in 2008.
Based on what they've seen of Adams this offseason, two Bucs veterans believe a breakout year is indeed in the offing.
"Gaines is going to beat a lot of people this year," 13-year veteran lineman Kevin Carter said. "He's going to make some big plays; he's going to unleash his skill on everybody."
A more stringent workout regimen and a new diet are two reasons Adams figures to improve markedly. The Adams the Bucs are seeing this offseason is far more dedicated and conditioned than the rookie they saw last year.
Adams is also a lot smarter than he was a year ago. His knowledge of the defensive scheme has improved, according to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and that will translate into improved play as well.
"Gaines has got some quickness, and now he knows the system," Kiffin said. "When you learn the system, then you can play fast. You can't play fast if you're thinking. You have to know what you're doing and now he knows."