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Quarterbacks wait for Gruden's choice

Bucs coach Jon Gruden praises both Chris Simms and Brian Griese for their preseason play.

RICK STROUD
Published September 4, 2004

TAMPA - Chris Simms stood in the locker room at Houston's Reliant Stadium Thursday night answering questions about his past at the University of Texas and his future with the Bucs. But what about the present?

The conclusion of another preseason is a bittersweet time for the left-handed quarterback. If Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, it also marks the start of a long fall and winter for Simms on the sideline.

The 24-year-old Simms completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in the preseason and led the Bucs in attempts (61), completions (42) and passing yards (432). But he finished in a virtual dead heat with Brian Griese in the battle for the No. 2 spot behind Brad Johnson.

Simms' quarterback rating was 87.6 to Griese's 87.2. But Griese, 29, has six seasons of NFL experience, most of them as a starter with the Broncos.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden has not named a backup for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener at Washington and has said that role could change during the year.

But, for now, Simms has to be content with his designation as the Bucs' quarterback of the future.

"It definitely does (help), I mean you know there are sunnier days ahead," Simms said. "But everybody in here is a competitor and wants to play right now. I think anybody would want to be a starter, Day 1. I definitely want to be there one day, sooner rather than later."

Of all the things that occurred in the preseason, it was the play of the quarterbacks that was the most consistent. With the exception of the game at Jacksonville, in which Tampa Bay didn't pick up a first down until the third quarter, the Bucs moved the ball successfully through the air.

"I think the quarterback play was very good," Gruden said. "I think when you look at Chris Simms completing 70 percent of his passes and Brian Griese's last two performances in a new system are very positive. Brad Johnson (looked) very sharp, (he is) sustaining long drives. I was very pleased with the quarterback position."

By design, Johnson played the least of the QBs in the preseason and was the only one not to lead his team to a touchdown. But the savvy veteran was efficient in moving the chains and completing 60.7 percent of his passes.

"I felt like we moved the ball extremely well, did some great things," Johnson said. "I've had over 1,500 snaps since training camp. That's a lot of snaps. I feel pretty good.

Injuries prevented the Bucs from building much continuity, especially on offense. Tackle Derrick Deese made his only appearance of the preseason Thursday, participating in about 25 plays, and showed no ill effects of foot surgery.

Gruden said that receivers Joey Galloway, Tim Brown and running back Charlie Garner will be ready to practice this week for the opener against the Redskins. None played in Thursday's 17-9 win over the Texans.

"We wanted to find out about some other players, also," Gruden said. "We didn't get Bill Schroeder until right before training camp, and we obviously wanted to use the preseason to see where Michael Clayton is. Yeah, we have a very good feeling where Joey Galloway and Charlie Garner are, Tim Brown, based on their experience in this league. We just wanted to find out some other guys. We'd like to have everybody out there and play a half of football and try to get some continuity and things like that going. But injuries and circumstances sometimes make you do different things.

"The linebacking corps I'm really impressed with. The depth, the speed of these men is something we're excited about. And probably the wide receiver position is an area that I'm excited about. I did not know a lot of these players, Galloway, Clayton, Schroeder. I never really met these guys until this season and I'm pleased with what they've done. Very pleased."

The Bucs have to trim 18 players from their roster to reach the 53-man limit by 4 p.m. Sunday. Gruden said players released by other teams could be added.

"We're going to make sure we do our research and make sure we're talking around the league here to make sure we've done what we can to keep the best 53," Gruden said. "If we need to acquire a player from somebody else, we'll work hard to do that."

Meanwhile, Simms will have to continue working to gain Gruden's confidence. As the final pick in the third round by the Bucs two years ago, he felt slighted watching quarterbacks in his draft class - Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller - start ahead of him.

"Yeah, I mean, I'm a competitor. I want to be out there and show my stuff, too," Simms said. "You're not jealous, but you still realize you're going to get your greatest learning being out on the field, taking some of those lumps.

"I definitely feel comfortable out there. Whether I'm ready to be a starter, that remains to be seen. No one will know that answer until I do it."

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