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It's now or never

The new QB could take a lesson from his younger brother: Just relax and play your game.

By RICK STROUD
Published October 30, 2005


It's a big game and Chris Simms knows all eyes are on the blond quarterback.

He's the one with the Super Bowl dad who played for the Giants. The kid has a strong arm, some real charisma and a talented team around him.

This particular weekend, Simms promises, he will try to steady himself.

"I'm very anxious. Very nervous," he admits.

That's because Simms' younger brother, Matt, was about to quarterback Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, Bergen County, the No. 2-ranked team in New Jersey, to a 41-7 victory over rival Montclair.

Simms took advantage of the bye week to fly home Oct. 21, dodge Hurricane Wilma and watch the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior grip it and rip it for 267 yards passing and a touchdown.

"He's really good," Simms said of his brother, 17. "Compared to when I was in high school, his arm is stronger than mine was.

"He's a little bit different than me because I was a little more OCD - obsessive compulsive disorder. He's a little more laid-back. ... He probably saw all the things I've gone through and just decided he's going to relax and enjoy it."

If there's one piece of advice Simms should take into today's game at San Francisco, that may be it.

The Bucs' third-year quarterback doesn't have to squeeze the football until the laces pop. He just has to relax and keep a steady hand on the offense.

"Last year, it was more like they were looking to me for a jump-start. Spark the offense," said Simms, 25, the son of Phil Simms. "This year, it's more to just hold the ship steady. The way our defense is playing, the way we've been playing offensively, the way the offensive linemen have dominated the line of scrimmage, I just want Ws."

Simms couldn't ask for a better situation. The Bucs are 5-1 and have the NFL's top-rated defense, an effective rushing attack, rookie Cadillac Williams on the mend and a 49ers defense that is allowing more than 30 points per game.

Simms also had an extra week to prepare and isn't coming in cold. He was 6 of 10 two weeks ago after Brian Griese suffered a season-ending knee injury.

All the coaching tips Jon Gruden imparted the past two weeks can be boiled down to three major points.

"I think the big thing is, it's not like he's a rookie, okay?" Gruden said. "I want him to go in there and put his signature on the offense. Don't try and be anybody else than Chris Simms. Go out there and play your game.

"The second thing is protect the football. Make good decisions. Don't try to do too much. And really, the third thing is know how important it is to protect yourself. You've got to be able to fall away from congestion, you've got to learn how to slide when you're scrambling." Simms didn't have to watch Griese tear ligaments in his left knee to figure that out. A year ago, in his first NFL start, Simms sprained a shoulder in the first half against the Saints and surrendered his job to Griese.

"The thing about Chris we have to remember is there's been no forcing him before his time," quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said. "When he was drafted here he sat, he watched, he looked and now he feels really confident. Well, he should. The preparation, the foundation we talk about at the quarterback position has clearly been laid here. A lot of guys don't get that opportunity. The third year is about time you say, "Hey, I believe I can do it.' "

Hackett's arrival this season has had a lot to do with Simms' maturation. In addition to Hackett's 17 NFL seasons and long history of developing quarterbacks, he has provided a buffer for Simms.

"He's brought a lot to this offense," Simms said. "And he's a great mediator between coach (Gruden) and us. I think in years past, (Gruden) couldn't completely trust the quarterbacks coaches we had. He wanted to make sure that every little detail was covered. With coach Hackett, he's been around the block and has done all this before."

The passing game could look different under the 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander. What he lacks in experience, he may make up for with athleticism. Against the Dolphins, he also spread the ball around.

"I think with my arm strength, there's some things I can do by sitting back in the pocket," he said. "Instead of coming to the line of scrimmage and reading the defense, determining what they're going to do, I can stand there and maybe wait a millisecond longer to read and react."

Meanwhile, Simms' long wait is over. Now the Bucs just need him to finish the job.

"When I dream about it, I dream of the playoffs," Simms said. "I really do. I know how excited I get sitting at home and watching them on Saturday or Sunday at 1 o'clock, whether it's a wild-card game or a divisional playoff game. It gives me chills. That's where I want to be. And the bottom line is I should be. "I really don't give a damn about my legacy or anything. I just want to go out, have fun, play smart, win games and see where we can go."