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Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden made some critical comments about quarterback Chris Simms to the media this offseason while attending the NFL Owner’s Meetings in Hawaii.

Those comments, one of which suggested Simms should stop listening to sports talk radio and the fans who were calling for him to start, were made several months ago, so how has Simms responded since? According to Gruden, Simms has shown improvement.

“He’s had a very good offseason,” Gruden said of Simms. “Between the lines, he’s made some really good throws and decisions. He’s just been more poised. He’s had better vision and is seeing more of the field. He’s making better and quicker decisions. He’s making progress, but I’m not going to start a quarterback controversy or anything like that.”

The Bucs considered going with Simms as their starter in 2005 before general manager Bruce Allen worked out a deal with agent Ralph Cindrich to keep QB Brian Griese in Tampa Bay this season. Of course, Simms didn’t exactly give himself a great endorsement with his season-ending performance against Arizona.

In that contest, which the Bucs lost 12-7, Simms completed just 16 of 32 (50 percent) passes for 224 yards and tossed one touchdown and two interceptions.

And while he did some good things last season, like leading the Bucs on two 71-yard scoring drives against the Seahawks and completing 5-of-8 passes vs. the Saints before injuring his shoulder, Simms’ mistakes outweighed the positives.

“We’ve been working as hard as we can work with the guy for the last three years,” Gruden said of Simms. “Hell, the second year of his career he was starting the fifth game of the regular season. He was off to a pretty good start. We just have to minimize the tragedy he has once in a while in his play. A snap here, and that’s probably getting a little too much play. He bobbled some snaps and he had a key fumble on the goal line against Seattle. He had interceptions during a two-minute drive against Seattle. He’s just had three or four plays per outing that you just can’t get away with. That’s something we’ve worked hard at correcting, and hopefully it shows in this preseason.”

One of the key additions made by Tampa Bay this offseason was quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, who has worked with the likes of Joe Montana, Rich Gannon and Chad Pennington. Although Simms has two years in the NFL under his belt, Hackett started from scratch with the young signal caller.

“What Jon expressed to me was that we needed to go back to the beginning with Chris,” said Hackett. “That starts with the stance, how you take the ball from center and those types of things. When you have quarterback/center exchange problems, you’ve got to examine all of the fundamentals. Hey, there might be one or two that happen during the course of a year, but when you have a number of them like we did last year you’ve got to look at it. So we went back and looked at all of the tape and talked about how he’d line up and talked about his thought process and weight distribution and things of that nature. Those are the types of things you do during the springtime. He’s been more than receptive to those things, and I think we’ve made some progress. I’m trying to show him that having that foundation can help him become more consistent. Again, in Chris’ case, it’s about experience, experience and experience, and he’s now in year three, so he needs to play. He needs to get into the fire and find out how he’s going to react. That’s the first step.”

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Simms suggested Hackett’s proven track record with quarterbacks has made it easy for him to buy the ideas he’s been selling this offseason.

“We’re just working on a few things as far as how my drop goes,” said Simms. “We’ve changed little things like that, and when you have a new quarterback coach you’re going to do that. He’s a little more fitting to my style. He’s really teaching me something. He changed my approach to the quarterback/center exchange, whereas now I’ve got my right hand on top of the left hand, so that’s really helped out a lot. I think it’s helped out the centers more than anything. Coach Hackett has been around a long time and coached a lot of quarterbacks, so that is obviously helping me.

“It really helps out because you know you can trust what he’s saying. He’s been in this offense and this league for a long time. He really knows the details about what the quarterback needs to do in this offense.”

Simms’ regular-season career stats haven’t been overly impressive. He’s completed just 42 of 73 (57.5 percent) of his passes for 467 yards and tossed one touchdown and three interceptions since entering the league as Tampa Bay’s 2003 third-round draft pick. However, Hackett came to the defense of Simms, citing the fact that having a left-handed signal caller enter the lineup makes things more difficult for the rest of the players around him.

“It’s significant,” Hackett said of Simms being a lefty. “You have to switch everything around and you have to talk about front side and backside as opposed to right and left. The way you set plays and set receivers flips, so it’s different from that perspective. It’s just something you have to get used to. It’s the same thing the 49ers went through when they went from Montana to (Steve) Young. It’s just a function of time and practice. I think we’ve made a lot of strides this spring because Chris has had twice as many snaps as anyone else. That’s what coach wants for him because it’s time for him.”

Simms concurred with Hackett that the extra reps this offseason should help make that transition, should Griese go down with an injury or perform poorly, go much smoother than it did last year.

“It’s definitely an adjustment the offense has to make,” said Simms. “The center has to snap the ball with the laces different now because he knows I’m a lefty. Of course, the receivers seeing the ball coming from a right-handed guy to a left-handed guy is different, too. I don’t think it’s a big problem because we get so many reps during the offseason, so you get used to it pretty quick.”

Although Gruden had some critical comments for Simms, no one is more critical of the former Texas Longhorn than himself. In fact, the comments he made following Tampa Bay’s losses to Seattle and Arizona were Trent Dilfer-like, meaning he was maybe too hard on himself. Simms said that’s the way he’s always been and will continue to be.

“You know what, it’s just me,” said Simms. “I’ve always been like that… I’m very self-critical. I don’t think I’ll change. I expect a lot from myself. If I make mistakes, I’m not afraid to say it. I’m not going to be one that tries to blame others for my mistakes. This is a man’s sport, and you have to own up to your mistakes.”

One of the things Gruden admires most about Simms is his work ethic and perfectionist-like mentality.

“I think that’s a great asset that he has,” Gruden said of Simms when asked if he thought the young quarterback was too hard on himself at times. “A lot of guys will just grab a soda and put their headset on and really don’t give a damn. This guy really cares. I hope he’s hard on himself because this is a hard business when you have to answer all of these questions when you’re 5-11 or losing games. He takes it personal, and I think that comes from his upbringing. That will and resolve will help him.”

With the exception of the game against New Orleans, which was short-lived due to the shoulder injury he suffered in the first quarter, Simms’ ’04 outing was rough. However, he said it was certainly something he’s been building off of.

“It definitely showed me that I can get out there and make some plays when I’m playing,” said Simms. “I felt like I was red-hot when I started in New Orleans, and I thought it was going to be me for the rest of the year. It was just one of those things you have no control over. I got hit as I was throwing and landed on my throwing shoulder. I’ve just got to battle back and take advantage of it when I get my turn again.”

This time last year, Simms was ahead of Griese on the depth chart and had his sights set on competing with Brad Johnson for the starting job. While he’s had an impressive offseason, Simms doesn’t think the starting quarterback position will be open for competition when the Bucs report to training camp on July 28.

“I feel like I’ve had a great spring,, but I don’t think it matters what I do. I don’t think I’ll get a start in Week 1,” said Simms. “The Bucs gave Brian $3.6 million in the offseason, and I don’t think they gave it to him to just sit on the bench. I’m just going to wait for my turn and see what happens. This league is crazy, so you never know what’s going to happen.”

However, Griese’s contract is structured in such a way that he could be released next year, which just happens to be the same time that Simms is scheduled to become a restricted free agent. He may not be able to earn the starting job this season, but the Bucs are hoping Simms shows enough progress in 2005 to convince them that he’s ready to take over as Tampa Bay’s signal caller in 2006.

“I’m always going to be confident in the guy,” Gruden said of Simms. “Nobody has worked harder than Chris Simms in this business in the offseason. If there has been as hard a worker in the NFL over the last three years I want to see him because this guy is insane. I want to see him succeed, and I’m confident he can do it. I’ll be shocked, and I mean shocked, if he can’t do it. I’m looking forward to seeing how he operates because he’s going to play a lot in preseason and early in those games.”

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