Berea, Ohio -- Jeff Garcia appears to be winning his fight with the Cleveland Browns' offense. Good for Garcia.
The Browns, who signed Garcia as their quarterback after he was released by the 49ers, at first did not appear to know what to do with him. Garcia is at his best when he's on the move, but the Browns tried to make him a pocket passer.
Garcia chafed. Now, nearly halfway through the season, Garcia says that he and first-year offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie have reached a relatively happy medium, with Robiskie "growing and adapting to what I'm capable of doing," Garcia said.
In Sunday's overtime loss to Philadelphia, Garcia played his best game of the year, both with his arm and his feet. He ran over a defender for the tying touchdown with 30 seconds left in regulation and said afterward, "I'm starting to get it."
"I'm growing to accept this offense," Garcia said at the Browns' facility here. "I've been very open, very vocal, with our offensive coordinator as to what I'm comfortable doing ... and that, in many ways, is the movement in the pocket."
If the Browns continue to adapt to Garcia, this could prove a very good move for the quarterback. Cleveland is a blue-collar town with fans who appreciate his gritty, somewhat frenetic, style of play.
Nonetheless, it's proving a difficult transition because Garcia is a Bay Area guy who didn't want to leave, who thought the 49ers tried to short- change him after he indicated willingness to stay with them on an incentive- based contract, and who admits he hoped to join Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay, but that the Bucs low-balled him in contract negotiations.
"As much as I thought that it would be a fresh start for me and be invigorating, and it has been a fresh start and there have been a lot of positive things that have come about ... it is difficult to leave home," Garcia said.
"I had so many comforts there in the Bay Area, growing up in the area and having so much positive support from my family and friends, all of a sudden changing that and now being somewhat isolated in a new part of the country and adapting to a new system ... not to knock Cleveland in any way, but I do miss being back home, being back in California, being close to my family.
"I think, at the age of 34, I would feel like I'd be more settled at this point in my life."
But, he said, "I definitely understand the business."
The business of football was driven home when Garcia and the 49ers tried to rework his 2004 contract. He knew he would have to take a pay cut and accept a deal based largely on incentives, he said.
"As much as I was willing to lower my price, where they set their standard, did not equal what I felt I was worth there," he said.
Maybe Garcia was simply being naive. There is reason to believe the 49ers never intended to bring him back this year, ever since they signed his backup, Tim Rattay, to a relatively inexpensive contract extension in the summer of 2003. Garcia said he never saw his departure coming.
"I knew that something had to give," he said. "I just didn't anticipate it would be happening to me."
The team's argument was that Garcia's performance declined in recent years. He also was injured quite a bit in 2003. Garcia, however, said his performance last year was affected less by injuries than by the mental stress of everything going on around him, including the Terrell Owens saga.
"Last season was such a trying season on so many levels that I really felt it start to come to a boiling point as far as the mental drain that was taking place on the team and on myself," he said. Garcia also pointed to the aftereffects of Steve Mariucci's firing, saying it "obviously ... came at a time (that) for us as a team, was really difficult to swallow."
"After back-to-back playoff seasons (2001 and '02) and a young team that was continuing to grow and build, I just thought that was such a disruption --
and then to add into the mix, some of the other problems that we had within the locker room and within the organization, I just felt it was really starting to take a toll on me and my approach to the game," Garcia said.
Although Garcia did not say so in so many words, his displeasure with the 49ers' organization does not include the coaching staff or the players (other than Owens). He talked recently with coach Dennis Erickson, still keeps in touch with Bill Walsh and Rattay, and got a good-luck message from former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp before the game against the Eagles.
When he left the 49ers, Garcia talked to the Bucs before landing in Cleveland. He says Gruden "had me sold" on Tampa and, further, that he believed Gruden was the coach who could get the most out of him.
"I so badly wanted to play for coach Gruden," Garcia said, "but (general manager) Bruce Allen and what they came to the table with was a slap in the face."
Garcia's passer rating this season is a middle-of-the-pack 80.7, which isn't bad considering the Browns' problems with their receivers. The rating would be 95.3 without counting a game at Dallas, when Garcia's rating was 0.0 and two of his three interceptions resulted from a pass that bounced off a receiver's hands and another receiver who ran the wrong route.
Just as Garcia is getting used to Cleveland, the city is getting used to him. Since the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, their No. 1 quarterback had been Tim Couch, who had neither mobility nor leadership ability.
Since the start of training camp, Garcia has been much more outspoken than he was in San Francisco, saying top pick Kellen Winslow Jr. needed to end his holdout, that receivers should adjust to his scrambling, and that the team needed to settle on a No. 1 running back, among other things. When coach Butch Davis said Garcia looked "skittish" behind a so-so offensive line, Garcia shot back that Davis couldn't understand the quarterback position because he never played it.
"In San Francisco, as much as I was a leader for that team, I did it through example," Garcia said. "I don't think I was ever really a vocal guy. And with this team being so young and with what I've experienced in the past .. . I felt this was an opportunity for me to start fresh and to really be the guy that I envisioned to be a leader.
"It doesn't mean you speak out on every situation, but when there are things you feel you need to represent the team on, then that's the time to definitely step up and speak your mind."