QB Chris Simms led the first-team offense at practice on Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game at San Francisco
It's a bit amusing to Chris Simms, this concern over his adjustment to the starting role, now that Brian Griese's knee injury has put Simms at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense.
It's not insulting, really, just an indication that few people outside of the Bucs' locker room are aware how natural this situation is to the third-year quarterback. Griese's injury, unfortunate as it is, simply means Simms is going to be playing ball again. And that's hardly an adjustment.
"If anything's hard to get used to, it's sitting on the bench, really," said Simms. "I never really had that experience until the last two years. I'm just excited that I get a chance to go out there and play and make some contributions to the team. I'm definitely not one to be intimidated by all of this. Football is what I'm used to."
And it's true that Simms hasn't seemed any different over the last fortnight, since Griese went down just before halftime against the Miami Dolphins. Through his first two-and-a-half years in the NFL he's been pretty much the same guy – upbeat, relaxed, team-oriented. He's the son of a former NFL star, but no child of privilege. Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden said last week that he has never seen a player work harder to achieve his goal – starting in the NFL – than Simms.
Thus, it's no change, really, for Simms as he prepares for his first start of the season, and the third of his career.
"His mentality has stayed the same whether he was the starting quarterback or the back-up quarterback," said wide receiver Michael Clayton. "When he gets his shot at practice he takes advantage. He makes excellent throws in practice; everybody sees it. His mentality has been that he wants to lead this team every time he gets into the locker room. He lets us know he's here and he's here to play."
None of which is to say that it's unnatural for fans and analysts to wonder how Simms will respond on Sunday. There aren't too many changes more drastic for an NFL team than a switch at quarterback, and an injury-related move has its own set of stigma. Simms can be as confident and cool as a 10th-year veteran, but he'll face outside doubts until he has proven himself for a month's worth of Sundays.
Thus, any amount of concern that isn't already reserved for rookie running back Cadillac William’s left foot will go towards the practice-field performance of Simms, who is now getting the majority of the first-team snaps. It's comforting news, then, that the third-year passer had a strong workout on Wednesday afternoon, leading the whole team to a good midweek showing.
"He looked good," said Gruden. "I thought he had a good day. He threw the ball well, made some good reads and good decisions and I was really pleased with his work today. The 49ers will test him. They're coming off a difficult game, we know that, but we know enough about San Francisco to know that they have a lot of talented players there. We're off to a good start [at practice]."
Simms first got the call to the starting job just over a year ago, when he was brought in to address the Bucs' 0-4 start. He had a strong start at New Orleans on Oct. 10, but he sustained a shoulder injury after one good quarter and was out long enough to let Griese claim the job. Simms also opened the season finale at Arizona and wasn't as sharp, but he has always maintained that he was ready for the starting gig last year. That doesn't mean that he is ignoring the value of past exposure.
"I think a year or more of experience can always help, and it definitely has," said Simms. "Last year I was very comfortable coming in and I felt good, but at the same time I'm a year older and I've just seen that much more and got that many more reps. That alone has made me a little more experienced.
"Last year I went in there and probably threw a few too many balls too hard…even this preseason. I've just made a conscious effort to relax myself before I go out there and not treat it any different than practice or any other game. Just be relaxed, go out there, be confident you can do the job and let it go."
One can't help but wonder how Simms' chance to start will affect the team next year and in the near future. If the young passer is a hit, who is the logical starter in 2006? Griese didn't lose his job due to ineffectiveness, and he signed a new contract with the Bucs this past spring. But you won't get any of the involved parties to address that issue right now, and here's why: 5-1. The Bucs have the best record in the NFC, and the overwhelming priority is continued success this season. Even Simms, who has the most to gain or lose, is keeping his goals team-oriented, not surprisingly. He isn't concerned about personal statistics as long as the Ws keep piling up.
"It's definitely my time to play and go out there and do some things," he said. "But at the same time, I fully realize that we've got a defense that's very good, a running game that's real good and I don't need to do a whole lot to go out there and win some games. We've proven we can win any kind of game, so I'm just going to do my part and let things go as they go."