Last year, then-rookie QB Chris Simms didn't have his first Buc workout until May
Chris Simms is no longer the newest kid on the block. However, this is his first year in school.
Quarterback School, that is.
That's the informal name for the weeks in March and April that Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden uses to indoctrinate his passers into the offense. Gruden, who may like nothing more in the business of coaching than one-on-one work with his quarterbacks, spends hours in front of a video projector making sure these men understand every nuance of the Bucs' attack.
Simms, in his second year with the team, has more experience in Gruden's offense than recently-signed veterans Brian Griese and Jason Garrett. However, as a third-round pick in last year's draft, Simms didn't join the team until late April and thus missed last year's QB School.
It's obvious that the second-year passer – the man many expect to be the Bucs' quarterback of the future – believes that last year's training camp and a season's worth of mid-week practices have made up for his late start in 2003.
"I feel like I know a lot," said Simms. "Of course there are a few things that are good to hear again, and I think that's why we are here. We just are freshening up, basically.
"Last year after the draft, when I got here and tried to learn things it took me a while. I struggled. Now, it's almost second nature. I'm really beginning to feel comfortable with it, can say things clearly and can really start to learn all of the little intricacies of the offense."
The only lefty in the Bucs' stable of passers, Simms has to learn the plays in a slightly different manner than his counterparts. He is sharp, however, and the kind of hard worker that pleases Gruden.
"We are really excited about him," said the coach. "Having a chance to back up Brad Johnson last year and see the game at close range has helped him and he's got those genes. Griese and Simms both have fathers who were great quarterbacks, guys that won Super Bowls. We are off to a good start with Chris and we are encouraged by what we see."
Simms' father, Phil, was a Super Bowl-winning passer with the Giants, and Griese's father, Bob, accomplished the same with the Dolphins. Genetically, they may have similar advantages, but Griese is in the early stages of learning his third offense in the last three years. Denver's starter in 2002, he joined the Dolphins last year and now moves on to the Buccaneers. He signed with Tampa Bay on Friday, March 19, just three days before Gruden gathered his quarterbacks for the first day of orientation.
Griese, who was thrilled at a shot to work with Gruden, liked the concept of an early immersion in the playbook.
"It is great," he said. "I've really appreciated the attention that goes into this offense and I'm excited about the opportunity to play in this system as a quarterback. I have a lot of respect for Jon Gruden and his system. He has had a lot of success with it. I'm a little bit familiar with some of the concepts from playing in Denver and the West Coast offense, and hopefully that will give me a little bit of a head start.
"(The playbook) is big. Every play serves a purpose and there are no extra plays in there and nothing that would confuse you, rather than serving you a purpose."
Griese didn't join the Dolphins until June last year, and ended up starting just five games, though Miami was 3-2 in those starts. His earlier start in Tampa should help him return to the very productive form he displayed with the Broncos in 2000 and 2001.
"The great thing about Brian (Griese) is that he is a quick study and a smart guy," said Gruden. "We think he is going to be a real good player. Obviously, he has to reload his system with new files. He has been in Miami, has been in Denver and is now in Tampa; that's three teams in three years and that can derail anybody. We've just got to get him centered on our attack and I think he is going to prove that he can handle it."
Griese, Simms and Garrett will battle for the primary backup job behind Johnson, though of course all four players are interested in starting. There will be many stages to their development and competition between now and early September, but the orientation those four receive in the system now will be invaluable, particularly for the newcomers.
QB School is only one aspect of the offseason training program that began at One Buccaneer Place last Monday. A huge majority of the roughly 80 players on the roster were on hand for Day One, including such new players as Todd Steussie, Joey Galloway and Matt O'Dwyer, and most will stick with the program for its full, 16-week course.
A good portion of the program is designed to get the players in peak physical condition for the season, something that has become a necessity in the modern, 12-months-a-year NFL. Mental preparation is at least as important, however, and more of a challenge this year with new players potentially filling dozens of important roles. On offense, the Bucs are likely to field a rebuilt offensive line, a new-look backfield with Charlie Garner and a new dimension in the passing game with Joey Galloway.
Johnson, who will be responsible for distributing the ball to all of the Bucs' weapons, new and old, isn't overly concerned about the acclimation process.
"On the offensive end there are a lot of new faces and it's kind of good for us at this point because we have to start from ground zero," he said. "There are a lot of proven players, especially on the offensive line playing, and some of the skill position guys. We start from ground zero and that's how we kind of build it up. It's what we did two years ago. We get a new heartbeat and that's what we might need right now."