QB Chris Simms has worked very hard in an effort to recapture his pre-injury form
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still believe Chris Simms will regain the form that made him their opening-day quarterback in 2006.
It just won't be this season.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers placed their fifth-year quarterback on injured reserve, the same list he occupied for most of the 2006 season after suffering a ruptured spleen against Carolina in Week Three. Following his splenectomy and a mostly inactive fall, Simms worked hard to recapture his health and his passing effectiveness during the 2007 offseason.
Unfortunately, Simms' best efforts weren't enough to complete his comeback this year.
"We had hoped [he would be back in 2007]," said General Manager Bruce Allen, who announced Simms' move to IR on a conference call Tuesday evening. "With a splenectomy, there's not a lot of a track record in professional sports, let alone football, for the recovery time. Then when you take into account he's a quarterback – we were hopeful, and Chris was hopeful. There's nothing he hasn't tried to do to get better. He's just not at full strength yet and we don't anticipate him being at full strength until this offseason.
"It's just taking longer than both Chris and we had hoped for."
Simms inherited the Bucs' starting job in 2006 after a strong finish to the 2005 campaign, his third season and the first in which he was a long-term starter. He opened 10 games that year after a season-ending injury to Brian Griese and compiled an 81.4 passer rating, completing 61.0% of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns versus three interceptions.
The 2006 season started roughly for Simms and the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay opened the season 0-4 and Simms was picked off seven times in his three starts. However, he had his best game in his final appearance at Carolina and the team was still confident he would finish the season well. Though he clearly wasn't performing to his usual standards in training camp, the Buccaneers maintained a spot on the 53-man roster for Simms based on his past performance and his potential. However, it gradually became clear that Simms would not be able to contribute significantly in 2007. Allen met with Simms before the decision was made to put him on IR.
"We discussed it, where he is physically, and he wants to get his A-game back," said Allen. "He is working very hard at it and we'll continue to, and we're very confident that he will recover completely.
"There's a difference between your health and being able to play football, and playing at the level that Chris was playing before his surgery. Chris is doing everything he can to regain his full strength and will be working here every day. We all know that Chris hasn't got his A-game back, and until he does he's got to keep working toward that goal."
The Buccaneers did not immediately fill the roster spot created by placing Simms on injured reserve. The team will likely sign another player on Wednesday, and one obvious option would be to address a suddenly depleted offensive backfield.
With Cadillac Williams beating Simms to injured reserve by a week and Michael Pittman following with a badly sprained ankle this past Sunday, the Buccaneers are down to just three backs on the roster. Fourth-year man Earnest Graham has inherited the starting tailback role and he is backed up by rookie Kenneth Darby, who was just promoted from the practice squad a week ago. Fullback B.J. Askew, a versatile veteran who carried the ball 343 times while at Michigan, is the third back.
Allen said the Bucs are comfortable with Graham carrying the majority of the load and Darby serving as his reserve, but he did agree that the position needs a new infusion of depth. Obviously, the last two weeks have made it clear that injuries can change a team's plans quickly.
"We felt very good about our depth coming into the season at the running back position," said Allen. "I'm pleased that we have the work from the offseason that the coaches and the players did for a Ken Darby to have gotten so much work and Earnest Graham to have been in our program now for three years. It's nice having that type of depth, but we obviously need to start developing somebody else to be ready in case we have any more injuries."
Allen said the Bucs are unlikely to add another back through a trade but allowed that the team would listen to any offers. Tampa Bay's personnel department conducted tryouts with a number of players on Tuesday and Allen said the answer for the open roster spot could come from that group.
Allen also reiterated that the team hopes to have Pittman back before the season is up, as examinations have shown no fractures in his injured ankle.
"We're hopeful that Mike will come back [this season]," said Allen. "Mike has been known to be a quick healer and we have the facilities here and the equipment that we think can help him get healthy. But we don't think it's a season-ending injury by any means."