Garcia has plenty of work ahead of him

Jeff Garcia (John Raoux/AP)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans waited for Jeff Garcia to return from his calf injury. What they saw on Saturday night gave them some pause, as Garcia threw two interceptions and looked as if he needs more work before the Bucs open their season against New Orleans.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia has a lot of work to do before the Bucs open the regular season at New Orleans Sept. 7.

Garcia rarely has practiced since the start of training camp, when he suffered a right calf strain.

He made his preseason debut in Saturday's 23-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and looked extremely rusty.

He threw footballs too high. Too low. Too hard. Too soft. He threw them overhand and underhanded.

His passes went behind receivers and in front of them.

One pass was floated too high to Maurice Stovall and was intercepted by Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson. He under-threw Michael Clayton in the back of the end zone and Nelson looked like the intended receiver again, recording his second interception of the half.

"It was a tough start," Garcia said. "There is a lot of rust I have to shake off.

"Having not had the other two preseason games as warm-ups or much practice, it just showed."

But the Bucs were determined for Garcia's night to end on a high note.

Following an interception by cornerback Ronde Barber, Garcia drove the Bucs 43 yards in nine plays for a score. He converted on third down with completions to Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. Then on third-and-6 from the Jacksonville 10-yard line, he threaded a pass to Clayton between Nelson and cornerback Drayton Florence for a touchdown.

"I'm glad coach (Jon) Gruden gave me the opportunity to stay in there and continue to compete, and thankfully, we put a drive together and finished it off well," Garcia said. "I think I made two very poor decisions tonight, which is very unlike me, and I think it shows that I haven't practiced a lot and haven't played at all. Those are things I needed to get out of my system tonight and hopefully I can move on from here."

Garcia finished 11-for-18 for 79 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions before being replaced by Brian Griese late in the second quarter.

"Things were just a little fast for me tonight," Garcia said. "I thought a little bit too much about things. It'll get more natural with more practice reps.

"I think you get into a situation where you haven't played, you expect a lot out of yourself. You expect to go out there and prove to your teammates. ... I wanted to do some good things. I think I did push and I did force the issue a couple times. Unfortunately, I got burned for it. But it's not indicative of how I play and it was probably good to get that out in preseason."

Garcia doesn't figure to play much in the final preseason game at Houston Thursday. So Saturday night's extended play-time may have to satisfy him until the Bucs' opener.

If Gruden is worried about the amount of rust on his starting quarterback, he didn't show it. A year ago, Garcia threw just four interceptions, so the errant passes can be chalked up to his inactivity.

"Obviously, he has been inactive for so long," Gruden said of Garcia. "I'm not going to be a basket case here. He threw one interception on a naked bootleg and tried to jam it in there. He never does that. He'll be fine."

Garcia says he still is not 100 percent but had functional mobility. Even so, he didn't look comfortable in the pocket and was slow to read coverage.

"I just need more practice," Garcia said. "That's really all there is to say about it. I've only practiced really one week. I just need more reps in practice and I'll get those."

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