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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Getting Ready

After a strong preseason, especially over the last two games, third-year reserve Chris Simms is feeling confident heading into the season and the Bucs are feeling good about their quarterback depth


QB Chris Simms finished the preseason on a high note and feels confident he's ready if and when his number is called

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaches and personnel men agonize over the roster for the 100th time on Saturday afternoon, will they be cursing Chris Simms?

After all, it was hard enough to figure out which young wide receivers should make the roster before Simms threw a touchdown pass to Edell Shepherd. And J.R. Russell. And Paris Warren. Hey, Chris, pick one and go with it! Led by Simms' outstanding performance Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the Bucs' young pass-catchers played a game of "who's got the ball last?" Didn't help the personnel staff much; when everybody shines, can anyone really stand out?

Simms also hooked up several times with young tight end Will Heller, including one play that produced a 27-yard completion downfield and set up a touchdown. That complicates matters, given that another young tight end, Nate Lawrie, caught a touchdown pass right after quarterback Luke McCown replaced Simms.

It should be pointed out that there is nothing keeping the Bucs from keeping all of the players mentioned above. Still, way to make everyone's job tougher, Chris.

Ah, but in another respect, and probably a more important one, the Bucs' brass can also rest a bit easier this weekend. With the regular season about to begin, the team should be feeling confident that it has a very competent option backing up starting quarterback Brian Griese.

Simms is certainly confident of this fact, and that's a good thing. The third-year passer knows he won't be the starter when the games start to count on September 11, but he certainly feels as if he could and should handle that role. No team wants a quarterback controversy, but every team wants its primary backup to feel that way.

After a strong showing five days before in Miami, Simms was even better in the preseason finale against Houston, and that put him in a good frame of mind for the regular season.

"It calms you down, that's probably the best way to describe it," said Simms of his back-to-back fine performances. "Knowing that you got out there and you made a few big throws. And, if you do get your number called here in the regular season you know you did it, and you know you can just go out and play."

It might be tempting to call Simms' 2005 preseason a rollercoaster ride, given that he drew some criticism after Game Two but has been a target of praise in the last two postgame wrap-ups. While Simms acknowledged the issues that needed to be corrected after that second game, against Jacksonville on August 20, he never conceded that he was struggling this summer.

"I had two good games in a row," he said. "But I'm not going to say that I didn't really have four good games in a row, either. I know I wasn't quite as sharp as I could've been those first two games, but I didn't play bad by any means either. So, I'm not going to say that. But, these last two, definitely, I was pretty strong."

Simms certainly finished with strong preseason numbers overall. He completed 66.0% of his passes, threw four touchdowns against just one interception, had the highest yards-per-pass-attempt of any of the three Buc passers (7.51) and finished with a quarterback rating of 107.8.

Obviously, Thursday's numbers were the best of that lot. His first pass was a one-yard outlet to running back Michael Pittman with just under two minutes to go in the first quarter; his last was a 22-yard touchdown toss to Warren about five minutes into the third period. In the equivalent of a quarter and a half, Simms completed 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was not sacked, and several times his mobility paid off in extra time to make drive-sustaining plays. The long pass to Heller was a good example; Simms escaped pressure and rolled left, seemingly choosing between several short options before flinging it downfield while still on the run.

Simms' last pass, the touchdown to Warren, was that of a man in complete command. On second-and-10 from the Houston 22, Simms took a short drop and made a hard pump-fake to the left side. The Houston defenders bit, Warren spun upfield and got behind the defense and Simms lofted a perfect floater into the rookie's hands in the end zone. Afterwards, Simms just unbuckled his chin strap and walked deliberately to the sideline.

Simms said there was nothing special about that pass or any of his three touchdowns. Merely the offense working the way it's supposed to.

"It was just having some opportunities to make some plays and capitalizing on them," he said. "Last week I thought we made some plays offensively, and really, we have all preseason. Tonight we took advantage of just about each and every one of them, and that's what a good team has to do."

Assuming all goes well with the Bucs' offense in September, and Griese remains injury-free, Simms' thrilling Thursday could be his last significant game action in awhile. Of course, you can never assume anything in the NFL, so it's encouraging that he finished on such a high note. If quarterback is the most important position on the team, as many NFL analysts contend, then depth at quarterback is a critical asset. Tampa Bay's depth looked quite comforting on Thursday night.

As for the depth at wide receiver…well, let's just say Simms is not envying those coaches and personnel men who will be sitting around the videotape machine Saturday afternoon.

"It's the best group of receivers we've had here since I've been here, I can say that," said Simms. "DeAndrew Rubin is a great player, J.R. Russell is a great player and Larry Brackins has a lot of talent. And you guys saw Paris Warren tonight too. Those are all guys who can play in this league. The coaches…I'm glad I'm not them this weekend."

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