For Simms, hard work beginning to pay off

Senior QB has Texas 5-0 going into Sooners game

October 11, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

AUSTIN, Texas - Earlier this year, when national magazines were putting together their college preview issues, Chris Simms asked the Texas publicity staff to not offer him up as a cover boy.

The Longhorns' quarterback wanted a less public preseason so that he could better focus on improving all aspects of his game. He spent a week in his hometown of Franklin Lakes, N.J., with his key receivers - Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas and Tony Jeffery - to better his on-field relationships with them.

Simms was aware that the great quarterbacks know everything about their receivers - from their tendencies on a fly route, where they prefer to catch a football and how best to interpret their body language and know when they've seen an unexpected break in the secondary.

"We looked at it as a vacation," Johnson said. "He looked at it as work."

Simms also spent the summer before his senior season working on several things, including:

When to scramble, and knowing that he can't give up on the pass until he makes checks of at least three receivers.

Speed. His time in the 40-yard dash dropped from 4.8 seconds to 4.7.

How to better read defenses. He watched countless hours of videotape.

Mechanics. By watching himself on video, he figured out that he was throwing the ball too low. He also decided to use two hands when clutching the ball as he dropped back in the pocket.

Simms' evolution has proved successful this season for the undefeated, third-ranked Longhorns (5-0). His touchdown to interception ratio is 10 to 3. He's completing 56.1 percent of his passes, despite not having Williams, his best receiver, healthy and available for the better parts of the past three games. And according to coach Mack Brown, Simms has thrown only one poor pass this season.

"He's playing better than he's ever played before," Brown said.

Longhorns players and coaches say Simms has gone from simply a pure talent to a savvy player who knows how to effectively mix his talents and smarts. They are confident that tomorrow at the Cotton Bowl against No. 2 Oklahoma (5-0), Simms won't be the same quarterback who threw four interceptions in last year's 14-3 loss.

"Chris feels real comfortable because he knows it's his team," said Beau Baker, Texas' starting right offensive guard. "He's a great leader. He just motivates us because we know how hard he works. ... He knows his stuff."

"The biggest thing with Chris is he's playing with so much more confidence," said Greg Davis, the Texas offensive coordinator. "His mechanics are so much better, too."

Other changes Simms has made are less obvious to fans, but are evident to those who have known him since he arrived in Austin in 1999 as the most heralded quarterback ever to sign with the Longhorns. Brown cites a play in this year's North Carolina game as an example of Simms' improvement. The Tar Heels blitzed Simms, and one had a direct path to him. But Simms sidestepped the sack, stepped up in the pocket and fired a completion to Johnson.

"Chris wouldn't have been able to do that last year," Brown said. "He's learning to dump it off more to his backs," said Williams. "He's reading defenses better. A lot of teams are blitzing him a lot. But he watches enough film now to know what the defenses are doing and what their tendencies are."

Simms' public statements are stronger than they've been in the past.

"This whole team has a bunch of guys who love to play football," Simms said. "And we don't care what anyone else says. We're real comfortable about who we are. We believe in each other. We don't get caught up in the [stuff] like we've done in the past."

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