The Pewter Report Conversation appears in each monthly issue of Pewter Report. However, Pewter Report has decided to make the Pewter Report Conversation for the June issue, which will be mailed to subscribers next week, free to all Bucs fans.  

Don’t be surprised if newcomer Jeff Garcia is the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when training camp starts. The 37-year old Garcia has been the most accurate quarterback during Tampa Bay’s OTAs and mini-camps this spring and summer.

Fifth-year veteran Chris Simms, the team’s starter over the second half of the 2005 season and the first three games of 2006, is not only trying to beat out a former Pro Bowler for his old starting job back, he’s also trying to do it without a spleen and without some of the bad habits and rust that have developed during his recovery from his season-ending splenectomy. Simms says he’s frustrated with where he is right now in terms of getting back to where he was as a QB.

Given the fact that he started off the 2006 season with one touchdown, seven interceptions, just as many batted balls and an 0-3 record, Simms not only needs to get back to where he used to be – he needs to surpass it. With five years in Jon Gruden’s offense and entering the third year of tutelage under QBs coach Paul Hackett, it’s time for Simms to turn the switch on and light it up.

Now that he must fight Garcia for the right to start at quarterback this year, it won’t be easy. But Simms is a fighter who always has a positive attitude. That attitude comes through loud and clear in a candid Pewter Report Conversation with Jim Flynn. Simms pulls no punches when talking critically about his game, his recovery, Gruden and the West Coast offense, how the lack of reps in the preseason may have led to last year’s slow start, and the installation of the shotgun (finally!) in Tampa Bay.

Simms has essentially two months to rehab, recover and rebound his game to recapture the starting QB job. Can he do it? Of course he can. But more importantly, will he do it? That’s up to him.

Chris, you went several months without even throwing a football after you underwent an emergency splenectomy on September 25 after the Bucs’ loss to the Carolina Panthers. What hasn’t been talked about regarding your road to recovery? How much did losing your spleen knock you down at first and affect your stamina?

“There were quite a few challenges. I had to wait quite a bit of time for my actual scar to heal up, so there wasn’t much I could do for the first few months. I jogged on the treadmill for a little bit, but that was about it. When I started feeling better I could start working out, but it really took a while for the normal feelings to come back because I was just so tight in my abdomen area from the scar tissue and having a big scar there. That was the first hurdle I had to get over. From there, I finally got to start throwing, slowly but surely.”

How long was it before you actually picked up a football and started throwing again, and are you 100 percent now?

“It was somewhere around the end of December before I threw a football again, so I went close to three months without throwing. I am 100 percent healthy, but I’m not where I want to be from a throwing standpoint. It’s not that I feel so bad throwing the football right now, but I have to get my body used to it. You always hear a lot about quarterbacks and timing, and for whatever reason that seems to be taking me more time to get back than anything else. But I think it’s just like anything else. Until OTAs started, I hadn’t been out here practicing since late September. That’s a long time. That’s definitely the longest period of time I’ve ever gone without throwing a football or practicing. It’s frustrating. It really is, and on a lot of levels, because not only was my abdomen tight from the injury and surgery, but my arm was tight as well because I hadn’t thrown a football in so long.”

So throwing a football isn’t like riding a bike where you can pick up where you left off?

“Not always. I think I probably developed some bad habits at first because I was trying to protect my stomach when I was throwing. Right now I’m really more or less trying to get rid of those bad habits so I can get back into my good ones. You know, just throw the ball the way I know how.”

You were scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, but opted to sign a two-year contract extension with the Buccaneers in December instead. A lot of professional athletes look forward to the opportunity to test free agency, but you chose not to. Take me through that process and your decision to remain a Buccaneer. I have to imagine your injury factored into your decision-making process.

“I think [my injury had something to do with it]. But more than anything, this place is what got me back here. I really love it here. I love our fans and I love this organization. I feel like our team is going in the right direction. It’s always been a dream of mine to stay with one team throughout my career and not be city hopping like a lot of guys do these days. That was really the biggest factor – just how much I love it here and how much I wanted to be here.”

Let’s talk about last year. I remember watching you guys at training camp and it seemed like the offense was faring quite well. But then the preseason and the regular season rolled around, and the offense struggled to get into a rhythm. You personally got off to a rough start, throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions. Looking back, have you been able to put a finger on what happened there?

“I can only speak for me personally, and I know looking back at it I wish I would have received more reps in preseason. I think Coach Gruden feels the same way. Like you said, we were tearing it up at times in training camp practices. But it is a whole different mindset once the real games start. I think we didn’t quite get enough snaps together in that preseason or take much momentum into the regular season. Of course, when the regular season started we played an unbelievable defense in Baltimore. We also had two starters injured on our offensive line. So, we were a little bit behind the eight ball right away. I know I definitely want more reps in preseason, but that’s always going to be Coach Gruden’s decision. I would envision that we’re going to approach it a little different this year.”

Did it surprise you when Bruce Gradkowski got the start over Tim Rattay last year at New Orleans?

“Not at all. Bruce won the backup job fair and square. He had a great training camp and preseason. When the season started he was our No. 2 quarterback. That’s who Coach Gruden went with. Bruce did a lot of good things last year, He really did. The most important thing is he’s a good leader and he’s calm and poised … when he wasn’t throwing up before the game (laughing). It’s a tough league. Everyone always blames the quarterback when things go wrong, but there’s a lot more to it than that. We didn’t play well as a team last year, especially on offense. Bruce did some good things, and the bad things he did he’ll only learn from and become a better quarterback because of them.”

The reality is that the Bucs went 4-12 and finished in last place in the NFC South division last season. You’re coming off a serious injury and Gradkowski struggled when he came in and replaced you. That said, what was your reaction when the Bucs not only signed Jeff Garcia, but also traded for Jake Plummer on the same day earlier in the offseason? Some have said that the fact that the Bucs went out and acquired two veteran quarterbacks this offseason might have been an indictment on you.

“I somewhat expected it. That’s how Coach Gruden has been ever since I got here. It’s part of the way it is in the NFL right now. At the end of the day all I can do is worry about me and what I’m doing at practice each day and when training camp starts. All of that other stuff doesn’t really mean much.”

What is your confidence level in Coach Gruden and his offensive system right now? Both he and his offensive system have come under some heavy criticism as of late.

“Coach Gruden is a proven, great coach in this league. As far as him being placed on the hot seat, everyone is placed on the hot seat every year in the NFL. That doesn’t change. As far as our offense is concerned, we have complete confidence in Coach Gruden and his system. The blame always goes back to the head coach and the quarterback. But a lot of the things that have happened over the last few years here you can’t blame it all on the coach or the quarterback. We’ve had some guys just make some stupid mistakes when they knew what they were supposed to do. Hey, we won our division and went to the playoffs two years ago. The Bucs won a Super Bowl with this offense, too. It’s definitely proven that it can do its job.”

Chris, you’ve had some challenges in terms of getting the pass off and over the line of scrimmage without having it batted down by opposing defensive linemen. But at the same time, Bruce Gradkowski came in after you were injured and he had similar challenges on occasion.

“Yes, he did. Thank you (laughing)! You know, this is the NFL and that type of thing happens sometimes. It’s part of the game right now. I think it’s more or less three-step drops. When you look back at the batted balls more often than not they’re happening on three-step drops. I’ve even had a few other people tell me about some stats around the league, and 85 or 90 percent of all of the batted balls around the league occur on three-step drops. Hey, defensive linemen have taken their game to another level. If they read three-step on a quarterback and know they’re not going to be able to get there they simply try to play basketball and swat the ball out of the air.”

Do you feel like the shotgun formation is something that can help the Bucs quarterbacks with the batted passes or does more have to be done in attempt to remedy that issue or at least limit the amount of batted passes you guys have?

“The shotgun is a great addition to our offense. As a quarterback I’ve always enjoyed the shotgun. It kind of just lets you sit back there and get a little bit bigger picture of the defense and what they’re doing. I’ve always felt like it’s easier to move around in the pocket when you’re in the shotgun. You’re not trying to get back on a five- or seven-step drop. You’re already where you need to be, and you can go from there. When you’re in the NFL right now, and you’re facing guys like Julius Peppers, Simeon Rice and John Abraham on a five- or seven-step drop, they usually have a pretty good idea of where you’re going to end up. So it’s helpful to be able to see where those guys are coming from.”

Now, Gruden has apparently come around and is installing the shotgun formation, but some people are skeptical or might not believe that it will actually be used in the regular season. During the OTAs the Bucs had a few mishaps with balls being snapped out of the shotgun formation, which has been Gruden’s fear all along. Do you believe it will actually be used in the regular season or are you one of the skeptics?

“Well, some of those mishaps weren’t as bad as they might have appeared, but there’s always a risk or a little bit of a danger with the shotgun. Hey, you’re leaving the quarterback about five yards away from the center, and anything can happen. Are you going to complete that exchange 100 percent of the time? Probably not. But you complete that snap as much as possible, and you see it around the league – teams like the Colts and other teams rarely have problems with the shotgun snaps. I think the centers on our team are getting used to it. At first it was a little shaky and they were kind of rifling it back to us. But they were just getting used to it. The last few OTAs we had they really seemed to have it down.”

A lot of pundits have come out with their predictions for the 2007 season, and they haven’t been too kind to the Buccaneers. Some have predicted a last place finish for the Buccaneers and that Jon Gruden will be fired at the end of the season. A few prognosticators have predicted 7-9 or 8-8 for Tampa Bay. That can’t sit well with you or your teammates.

“I think the attitude in the locker room and on the field is pretty positive right now. It’s hard to be a so-called expert in this day and age. Not too many people predict some of these teams to go from 3-13 to almost making the Super Bowl or anything like that. It’s just a funny league right now. You can literally go from worst to first in one season. The Saints did that last year, and we did that from 2004 to ‘05. There are only three of four teams that you can look at right now and say with some degree of confidence that they’re going to be good. The Patriots are going to be pretty good. The Colts and Bears will probably be pretty good. After that it’s a crapshoot. In this day and age of the NFL, all you need is three, four or five players and it can completely turn your team around. I think we got some of those players this offseason, and I know we’re all excited about it.”

Okay, Chris. Now that we got all of the tough questions out of the way, here’s an easy one for you. Who will be the Bucs’ starting quarterback at the beginning of the season?

“That’s a point blank question (laughing)! But that’s really not up to me. I’m going to compete as hard as I can and I know the other quarterbacks are going to as well. You just leave that up to Coach Gruden and his staff. You can’t really worry about all of the outside influences. You just try to do your job and go from there.”

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