Simms has hold on starting role

In fourth year, Buccaneers quarterback handles legacy, Gruden as he comes into his own

September 08, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Things have changed, as Chris Simms will start an opener for the first time in his NFL career.

Things haven't changed, as skeptics wait for Simms' grasp of the most vital position to match his gifts.

"For quarterbacks in the modern NFL, there's not a lot who've been in the same offense and had the same coach calling plays for four years," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "His strength certainly centers around his physical talent. Secondly, his understanding of our system, I think that will help us."

Many are blessed with good genes, but few are legacies like Simms, who began last season backing up a fellow son of a winning Super Bowl quarterback.

Brian Griese, son of Bob, was the Buccaneers' 2005 starter until he went down in the sixth game with a knee injury. Simms started the last 10 and got Tampa Bay to the playoffs, where the first of his two interceptions helped the Washington Redskins to a 14-0 lead that the Buccaneers couldn't overcome.

The finish seemed of little concern to the Buccaneers' front office in the offseason, as Griese was cut - the Chicago Bears are his fourth team in five seasons - and Simms was anointed the starter in his fourth season. Since the NFL schedule was released in April, Simms has focused on Sunday's opener at Raymond James Stadium against the Ravens instead of competing for a job.

"A year ago at this time, I knew I was the backup," Simms said yesterday. "Getting my first Game 1 start as an NFL quarterback, I get a whole lot more reps in practice and a whole lot more media guys asking me questions."

Simms knows scrutiny, and a good quarterback controversy.

As a high school senior in 1998, he was USA Today's National Offensive Player of the Year. At the University of Texas, Simms supplanted the popular Major Applewhite, who holds more school passing records. Simms took Texas to consecutive 10-win seasons, but he came to symbolize the talented Longhorns' penchant for failure in the big game, a knock that Vince Young put to rest.

Simms is 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, and he possesses one of the strongest arms in the league. A left-hander, he probably knows that Kenny Stabler and Steve Young are the only southpaws to quarterback Super Bowl champions.

"I was one of those kids," Simms said, "when I was 4 or 5, who could tell you every player on every team, and their number."

Simms was 6 in January 1987, when his father provided the primer on quarterback efficiency in the Super Bowl. Phil Simms, now a CBS analyst, set Super Bowl records for consecutive completions and completion percentage (22 of 25) in the New York Giants' 39-20 rout of the Denver Broncos.

"I still go back from time to time and watch his Super Bowl performance," Chris Simms said. "There's not a play you could ask me about that I couldn't tell you what happened."

The father was hounded by coach Bill Parcells, and the son hears criticism from Gruden.

Gruden has an even shorter fuse in practice, but has he gone easier on Simms now that he's the starter?

"Not really. He's tough on the quarterback, regardless," Simms said. "Go back to his days with Rich Gannon out in Oakland. I can remember watching Coach Gruden cuss him out [on TV]. He's always going to be very intense when it comes to the quarterback position."

Tampa Bay was coming off a win in the Super Bowl when it took Simms with the final pick in the third round of the 2003 draft. He had 33 attempts in 2004 when he started the fifth game, which he left with a shoulder injury. Griese took the job by default, and was the starter in 16 of 17 games until he was injured last October.

Simms gained confidence in comeback wins over Washington and Atlanta, then threw for 285 yards in a Christmas Eve overtime defeat of the Falcons. Just 26 years old, he's something of a graybeard in a huddle where running back Carnell Williams is 24 and wide receiver Michael Clayton is 23.

"He's gotten a whole lot better from when he first came into the league," Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle said. "You can tell that from when he led them to the playoffs last year. I don't think Coach Gruden would make him the starting quarterback if he didn't have confidence in him."

Ravens notes -- Aubrayo Franklin, the Ravens' top backup at defensive tackle, did not practice because of a thigh injury, increasing the chances that he'll miss the opener. He remained questionable on the injury report. Running back Jamal Lewis (hip), wide receiver Derrick Mason (thigh) and cornerback Chris McAlister (thigh) all practiced but were still listed as questionable. ... Receiver Mark Clayton, who is the team's emergency third quarterback, worked with quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel after practice. ... The Ravens signed defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander to their practice squad after placing defensive lineman Nick Leaders on the injured list.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Edward Lee and Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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