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Bucs

Show and Tells

Chris Simms' body language will tell us if he's ready to lead or still in over his head.

By GARY SHELTON
Published October 30, 2005


Ah, kids. Sometimes, they grow up so fast. Sometimes, they mature so slowly.

Today, it is time to measure Chris Simms against the growth chart.

He is somewhat older now. Is he somehow wiser? He is slightly more experienced. Is he significantly more poised? He still has the energy of youth. Has he gained the calm of a leader?

Today, Tampa Bay will find out a lot more about Simms. Also, about the Bucs.

Three years into his professional career, we still do not know much about Simms, the cotton-topped, gee-whiz kid trying to work in the family business of quarterback. At 25, he is too old to be a phenom and too young to be a bust. He is a backup quarterback thrust into the driver's seat, trapped between the suggestions of what he has and the suspicions of what he lacks.

Today, the trial of Simms resumes. Who knows what he will be when he grows up.

How does he look? How does he sound? Does he talk too fast, think too slow, throw too wild? For some time now, Simms' teammates have been asking the same questions, looking for the same clues.

Today, we all join in the search. Today, we try to read Simms' body language.

Watch his eyes, for instance. Do they look too large for his skull?

There is a look to a quarterback in over his head. It is the look of a man trying to see through the mist, slightly awed and slightly afraid. Remember how J.P. Losman of the Bills looked against the Bucs. Yeah, that look.

Also, watch where the eyes travel after a tough hit or three. Do the eyes lower to watch the rush? Or does the quarterback look downfield with the calm of a man with a remote control in his fist?

Think of it like this: If Simms has trouble with his eyes today, your eyes are going to ache from the sight of it.

Watch his feet, too. He can kill you with his feet.

Scouts will tell you this is one of the first places you look when grading a young quarterback. Does he dance in the pocket? Does he look as if he is walking on hot coals?

"Happy feet," they call it. It suggests that a quarterback is too skittish, too excitable in the pocket. A strong rush can do this even to a veteran quarterback. It strips him of his comfort, his rhythm. It makes him impatient even when he does have time. Remember how Detroit's Joey Harrington would pass against the Bucs before his receivers had time to run their routes. Yeah, that impatience.

In other words: If a quarterback's feet are out of control, it suggests that his head is the same.

Watch his poise. Does Simms look like a guy you would follow to safety?

Excitable boy, Simms. At times last year, however, Simms looked as if he were in too big of a hurry to get to the line, and too big of a hurry to get away from the center (sometimes, before the snap was exchanged). There is a difference between electricity and a live wire.

Hey, the Bucs are used to the drill, okay? For years, the challenge of the Bucs has been to drop the opponents' quarterback and to carry their own.

For Simms, the first job today is to instill confidence in his team and build trust with his coach. He needs to come across as more mature, as more patient. He does not need to look as if the game is moving so fast he has to hurry to catch it. He needs a presence.

Put it this way: If Simms looks like a man going nowhere, how can he lead anywhere?

Watch him in crucial situations. That's when the Bucs will need Simms to make a play.

Everyone knows how the Bucs will approach this. They will try to keep Simms to a minimum. Still, this is the NFL. A team can't hide the quarterback. On third downs, and near the goal line, Simms will have to make plays.

To date, it has not been Simms' strength. In his career, he has faced 37 third downs (and gone for one fourth and 2); he has converted only 12 and been sacked eight times.

Around the goal line, especially, Simms has struggled to finish drives. In his six games (four tests and two experiences with a mop), he has had 35 drives. On those, he has had 17 plays inside the opponent's 25 and no touchdowns. Four times, he has settled for field goals. Only twice overall has he led the Bucs to touchdowns (a 5-yard pass that Michael Clayton turned into a 75-yard touchdown against Arizona and a 57-yard run by Michael Pittman on third and 1 against Miami).

Just a reminder: Technically speaking, touchdowns are worth more than field goals.

Watch the scoreboard. Or just watch Jon Gruden's face, which is pretty much the same thing.

Here's a comforting thought. Simms doesn't have to be as good as Brian Griese. Eventually, he has to be better.

Not to add insult to knee injury, but for much of the Bucs' early season, Griese was ragged. When the schedule strengthens, Simms won't be able to get away with some of the mistakes that Griese had.

Simms inherits a team that has climbed to 5-1 on thin limbs. No problem with that. Last year, the Bucs loved to tell everyone how different their play was from their record.

Still, it isn't hard to see the playoffs from here. It starts with a young quarterback playing like a veteran. It starts with control, with poise and with a few fastballs.

Watch him play. It's time to see if he can.

[Last modified October 30, 2005, 01:13:18]


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