Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms has a lot to be optimistic about heading into the 2007 season. Despite a dreadful start to the 2006 campaign in which he threw seven interceptions and only one touchdown while losing his spleen after Tampa Bay’s loss to Carolina in the third game of the season, Simms has a lot to be thankful for.
First, he is healthy and ready to go after an emergency splenectomy placed him on injured reserve after just three games last year.
“I feel great,” Simms said. “I’m 100 percent. No question. I feel good. It’s good to feel good. I’m living life normally and don’t have to worry about anything.”
Second, Simms is excited about head coach Jon Gruden’s willingness to implement the shotgun after several years of reluctance about using the formation. Simms thrived in the shotgun in college at Texas.
“Coach has been talking about it and I think he’s pretty serious about it,” Simms said. “We’ll see when that first practice rolls around, but as of right now, I think we’re going to have the shotgun. I’m extremely excited about that. I’m a big believer in it. It’s a good wrinkle to put in the offense for protection purposes. The quarterback can kind of step back and look at the defense as a whole. I’m looking forward to it.”
The third thing Simms has going for him is that Gruden didn’t automatically give away his starting job to either Jake Plummer, who is considering retirement, or Jeff Garcia, who also addressed the media at One Buc Place on Tuesday.
“It’s a great move for our team,” Simms said of the Bucs acquiring Garcia. “The way the NFL is in this day and age, you need two quarterbacks. You just don’t want to be destroyed if your starting quarterback goes down. Just like the situation he was in last year in Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb gets hurt, he comes in and plays very well and they go to the playoffs.
“I knew we were going to sign a veteran quarterback. We’ve tried to sign every quarterback under the moon since I’ve been here. I honestly didn’t think that we weren’t going into this offseason trying to sign at least one veteran quarterback. I didn’t talk to Coach, honestly, right before we signed Jeff Garcia. Bruce had called me and told me what we have going on. The day before we had traded for Jake Plummer and then I wake up the next morning and we have both.”
Simms said that general manager Bruce Allen called him on March 3, the day the team finalized the trade with Denver for Plummer and signed Garcia, to make him aware of the situation.
“Bruce was really kind to call me and really let me know the situation and what was going on,” Simms said. “He really didn’t have to do that. I do respect that a lot. I thought that was very good of him.”
Simms sidestepped any questions from the media regarding whether he thought he was the incumbent starter with the team’s addition of Garcia.
“I know I’m in a position to be the starter,” Simms said. “I’m not going to say I’m the starting quarterback or anything like that. That’s for coach to say. We have a long time before any of that has to be decided. That’s part of being in the NFL. There’s competition. I’ve been through it before. I went through it in my first two years in the NFL. I just worry about myself, and what I can do, and you just let everything else kind of take its place.
“I’m not going to say I consider myself the starter. I consider myself maybe a key component to a good football team. I’m really just going to come out here and do what I do, work hard and not really pay attention to a lot of outside noise.”
The humble Simms said that he could not fault Garcia for coming in and expecting to start.
“I’m sure he expects to be the starter,” Simms said. “I’m sure there are a few other guys on this team who expect to be starters. It’s going to be a long time before we get to that point.”
Simms, who at times can have a very confident air about himself, was fairly subdued and perhaps a little uneasy when discussing which quarterback would end up being the starter for Tampa Bay this year. In previous statements to the media, Garcia acknowledged that if there was a starter at this stage of the offseason it would be Simms due to his experience in Gruden’s system.
“I guess I have an edge because I’ve been here and I understand this terminology,” Simms acknowledged. “But in terms of years in [the West Coast offense] offense, he’s definitely got me beat. How long has it been? He’s taken a lot of snaps.”
On Tuesday, both Simms and Garcia indicated that there would be no friction as they compete for the starting spot. In Simms’ mind, he’s glad he re-signed and is in the mix to become Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback in 2007.
“I can’t tell how you how happy I am to be back here and be back with this team,” Simms said. “Who is to say that I wouldn’t be in this situation anywhere else or maybe in an even worse situation. … I’m not going to be a guy that is going to sit here and complain. I’ve got a lot of good things going on in my life. A little competition in football is the way it’s supposed to be.
“At the end of the day, Coach is going to play the best player. There are too many lives at stake here to be messing around and playing favorites. This is the National Football League and Coach’s family’s livelihood and his own livelihood and mine and other coaches and players – they all depend on it. At the end of the day, you’re going to have the best 22 players on the field.”
Simms addressed the fact that he is still a work in progress as an NFL quarterback. He isn’t happy with the way his 2006 season started or abruptly ended with the emergency splenectomy, and understands that he needs to follow the advice of Gruden and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett and learn how to take hits better to avoid serious injury.
“Both of them talk to me about it a lot,” Simms said of avoiding big hits. “Coach Gruden, it’s something he’s always stressed – trying to take that hit off your body, especially as a quarterback, because we’re not the biggest guys in the world. And of course, we’re not used to hitting on an everyday basis like a lot of other guys are. Our bodies aren’t conditioned for it. Looking back to last year, the most important thing for me that I could have done for our team was stay healthy. I put our team in a tough position.
“I definitely struggled. Of course, I’m really mad at myself for some stupid mistakes I made early in those games. What else makes me mad is probably the third game. It was somewhat of the way my career has gone so far. I felt like we were coming out of our offensive funk and we were starting to play better, and of course I got hurt. There’s a part of me that feels like if I got to play last year … you know 8-8 went to the playoffs. You know, 0-3 wasn’t that bad looking back on it. It was just a frustrating first few games.”
With the 2007 NFL Draft approaching, Simms was asked whether he would rather the Buccaneers take Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas or Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the fourth overall pick if both players are available when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
“Well, we signed Luke Petitgout at left tackle, so I guess you know where I’m going with this,” Simms said with a grin. “I want to take a guy where you can just throw it straight up in the air and let him go get it. He can make me look good.”
And if Gruden added another quarterback like Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn or LSU’s JaMarcus Russell to an already crowded quarterback competition?
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Simms said. “We might take JaMarcus and Brady.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com