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Some might have expected quarterback Chris Simms to struggle a bit when he took the field last Sunday as Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller, but no one could have possibly seen the disastrous outing Simms had coming, right?
Wrong, and shame on us for not seeing it coming after watching Simms have similar outings during training camp and preseason.
On Sunday, Simms completed 21-of-34 passes for 264 yards and tossed one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which led to 49er field goals. Although these stats aren’t impressive, they don’t tell the entire story of Simms’ poor performance, either.
Simms was indecisive, held onto the ball too long, which contributed to him being sacked five times, did a poor job of recognizing blitzes and defensive alignments and short-armed several passes, which is usually a sign of a quarterback who is throwing passes in fear of them being intercepted.
Sure, some of these mistakes can be expected from a quarterback who is making just the third start of his three-year career, but there was absolutely no sign of improvement from his last start, which came in the 2004 regular season finale vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
Although the Bucs signed QB Brian Griese to a long-term contract during the offseason, Tampa Bay had high expectations of Simms, who was the team’s 2003 third-round draft pick out of Texas.
There was good reason to be optimistic that Simms would take a step in the right direction. After all, the Bucs hired quarterbacks coach guru Paul Hackett, who is well versed in the West Coast offense, to help bring the left-handed signal caller along.
Hackett helped to eliminate some flaws from Simms’ game, like his struggle with the quarterback/center exchange. But when the Bucs took the practice field at training camp, Simms’ improvement, or lack thereof, stood out more than his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and strong arm.
Pewter Insider subscribers will probably recall that Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds and I reported in our daily training camp reports how Simms often times struggled in practice, with our biggest criticism being his indecisiveness and penchant for taking too many sacks and tossing up errant passes.
The paragraph below is from the morning training practice report on Aug. 10:
“Simms continued to hold onto the ball too long on a few occasions, getting sacked by DE Simeon Rice and taking a sack by a group of players a few plays later. Even safety Dexter Jackson got into the mix by sacking Simms on a blitz.”
Simms’ woes carried over into the preseason, where he struggled quite a bit in Tampa Bay’s first two preseason games. In fact, Simms made Pewter Report’s 5 Most Disappointing Players list for the Bucs’ exhibition games vs. the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Take a look for yourself:
Aug. 13th 5 Most Disappointing Players – Simms
“Although he completed 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) of his passes for 54 yards against the Titans, Simms appeared to be uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the night. In the second quarter, Simms threw a pass that got picked off by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck, who returned the ball 29 yards for a touchdown. In his defense, Simms’ throwing arm was hit by a defender on the play, but it’s still disappointing seeing as the Bucs have spent so much time and even brought in QBs coach Paul Hackett this offseason to help eliminate this type of mistake. Simms was also sacked after failing to get rid of the ball in a timely manner. His ability to lead the Bucs down the field on their first possession of the third quarter was encouraging, though, especially since the drive finished with a touchdown after Simms hit running back Earnest Graham in the corner of the end zone for the score. The Bucs are expecting great things out of Simms, who had two straight impressive preseasons heading into this year’s, but he didn’t play much better than a backup quarterback on Friday night.”
Aug. 20th 5 Most Disappointing Players – Simms
“For the second consecutive preseason game, Simms struggled, and this is becoming a disturbing trend considering the fact that he’s put together impressive preseasons over the past two seasons and is now struggling in his third preseason in the NFL. On his first series of the Bucs-Jags contest, Simms took a coverage sack and was sacked on the very next play on third-and-16. Both quarterback takedowns occurred when Simms took seven-step drops, and he appeared to hold onto the football too long both times. Later in the game, Simms misfired a pass to wide receiver Ike Hilliard near the sideline. On the next play, Simms threw a pass too hard and too high for Hilliard, who was running a slant pattern. Instead of getting a first down, the pass fell incomplete and ended the drive. Simms finished the game completing 6-of-10 passes for 41 yards. He was sacked twice and his longest completion went 12 yards to WR Michael Clayton. This is certainly not the type of performance the Bucs expected out of Simms this preseason. The good news is he has two games left to redeem himself.”
Redeem himself is exactly what Simms did in the preseason finale vs. the Houston Texans. He completed 12-of-16 for 163 yards and tossed three touchdowns passes and zero interceptions in that contest.
His strong outing vs. Houston somewhat padded Simms’ overall preseason stats, which saw him complete 31-of-47 (65.9 percent) of his passes for 353 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
As it turns out, Simms’ impressive performance vs. Houston was also good enough to temporarily erase his sub par training camp outing and poor showing in the first two preseason games from the minds of most observers, who were the same people that felt the Bucs offense could still succeed with Simms in for the injured Griese.
After further review, we should have seen Simms’ unimpressive outing vs. the 49ers coming, and perhaps the Bucs did. After all, they have traded for two quarterbacks – Luke McCown and Tim Rattay – since Hackett’s arrival.
It’s still early in Simms’ career, but it’s midway through Tampa Bay’s 2005 regular season, and the 5-2 Bucs simply don’t have the time or patience for Simms to regress, which is apparently happening.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will be the first to tell you how Simms’ work ethic and intelligence are impressive to say the least, but it seems as though the young quarterback outthinks himself too often and fails to keep himself poised under pressure. Simms’ uneasiness rubbed off on the entire offense on Sunday.
In the few days that have passed since Simms and Co.’s debacle in San Francisco, some Bucs players have quietly expressed their concern regarding Simms’ inability to lead the Bucs offense. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a player who has a lot of confidence in Simms at this point, and although it’s disturbing to hear these types of rumblings, I can’t say I blame the players for lacking a ton confidence in their new starting quarterback. My how quickly things have changed from a week ago when the players were much more hopeful about Simms having improved to the point where there would be little drop off from Griese.
Simms is still a young quarterback, and one would like to think he has the ability to significantly improve his play with some more playing experience, but how are we to believe Simms can actually do it if his own teammates may not be buying into that same notion?
Simms will get the start vs. the Carolina Panthers, which brings a solid offense and defense into Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Bucs will likely lean heavily on their running game in an effort to take some of the pressure off of Simms in this contest, but the bad news is Carolina has the No. 2-ranked run defense in the NFL. That means means Simms will have to move the ball through the air if the Bucs are to stand a chance of ending their four-game losing streak vs. the Panthers.
Simms is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and if he fails to perform better than he did vs. the Cardinals in ’04 and the 49ers last Sunday, he may not even be tendered a contract since Rattay, McCown and Griese are under contract through the 2006 season. But a more likely scenario would be for the team to tender him a one-year contract and try to deal him – if he continues to have performances like he has had in Arizona and San Francisco.
The Bucs are high on Rattay, who is crash-coursing his way through Gruden’s playbook in an effort to get ready should he be called on to help lead the Bucs offense this season. That call could some sooner rather than later should Simms struggle again in a losing effort to the Panthers.
And should that change at quarterback indeed take place, you’ll be able to say you saw it coming.
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