QB Chris Simms learned in 2004 how quickly the quarterback depth chart could be flipped over
Chris Simms knows that, no matter what the depth chart may say, he could be starting this fall in the blink of an eye.
He learned that during one particularly violent blink last season, when New Orleans defensive end Will Smith hit him from the right side and the Superdome's artificial turf hit him from the left, before he could get his throwing arm in a safe position. He wouldn't see meaningful minutes again until the season finale.
Suddenly Brian Griese, who had started the season third on the depth chart and off many NFL radars, was the starter and one of the league's hottest passers. The Bucs re-signed Griese after he broke the team's passer efficiency record, meaning Simms will go into the season as the second-string quarterback once again.
But if Griese can go from third to first in one season – much as Shaun King did during the playoff race in 1999 and Rob Johnson did for a few games in 2002 – then Simms could very easily be throwing important passes next fall.
"I realized the way this league is…last year, going into Week One, I was second-string and Brian was third-string," he said. "By the season's end, Brian was the star of our team and without question one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It's just a crazy league and you never know what can happen."
Of course, Simms also knows that his wait could be much longer. He wouldn't be the first talented quarterback to spend a lengthy apprenticeship before getting his shot to start. He wouldn't even be the first in his family.
"I think a lot of quarterbacks have gone through that in their careers, my dad being one," he said, referring to former Giants great Phil Simms. "He started a lot of games his rookie year, then he had injuries to deal with, really, for the next four or five years.
"At least I'm healthy and young."
And highly valued by the organization. Simms and Griese were at team headquarters this week for quarterback orientation meetings with Head Coach Jon Gruden, just two weeks after Gruden made some rather straightforward comments about Simms' progress. Gruden had two basic points: One, Simms, while at times brilliant, needs to clean up some ragged edges of his play; and, two, there is no controversy at this point about who the starter should be.
Simms, who worked very hard to improve during the 2004 offseason and intends to do the same this spring, wasn't at all upset by Gruden's comments.
"He didn't hurt my feelings," said the former University of Texas star. "People keep asking me, 'Are you alright?' He didn't hurt my feelings at all. Hey, it's part of football, and if you can't take constructive criticism and build on that, then you shouldn't be in this league.
"He's the head coach. That's what he believes, and I'm right there with him. There are a lot of things I can improve on and didn't do so well. I'm definitely tuning out the hype and I understand what he's saying there."
Gruden wants to see fewer plays short-circuited by bobbled snaps and the like, and he definitely wants to see fewer turnovers. Of course, that goes for whoever is under center for the Buccaneers, and those are the types of things the quarterbacks and their mentor were working on this week.
Gruden, Griese and Simms are studying routes and formations, audibles and options. They're also poring over tape from the games of 2004, which serves to underline both the strong plays that both quarterbacks made and the errors that need to be excised.
"The good thing is, they're all correctable," said Simms of the mistakes of '04. "Those are things we're looking at right now during the orientation. Little things like that – why are they happening and what can we do to fix it?
"It's a good way to just get back, get started again and get back in the flow. It gives you some good reminders of what we were doing last year, and now you can improve other things you didn't like and keep going with the things you did."
Simms made huge strides during his first full NFL offseason last spring, which is how he came to be second on the depth chart in September and the new starter by October, even if that gig lasted only about one quarter. Much of his 2004 season was spent rehabbing his shoulder and trying to get back on the field, so it certainly didn't unfold exactly as he intended. He's completely healthy now, however, and he knows exactly how he wants the 2005 offseason to go. Simms plans to focus on one important aspect of his play.
"I'll say it, and I'll probably say it 50 more times this offseason, but just consistency," he said. "Like you guys have been saying, there are points where I look poised and I look good, and then there are three plays where I stumble out of center two snaps in a row and then drop a snap. Things like that just can't happen anymore.
"There are certain points in the game where I maybe just get a little too much geeked up and into the game where I can lose my head and do some stupid things. But at the same time, I didn't feel like I let any of that get the best of me last year. The mistakes I made were just flat-out mistakes, that's all there is to it. I'm not going to have any excuses. I've just got to fix them."