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Gruden's not turning away from Simms

The Bucs coach says players need to rally around their quarterback; Chris Simms says they already are.

By RICK STROUD
Published September 19, 2006


TAMPA - The Bucs are moving forward with Chris Simms though it seems his development as a quarterback has taken several steps backward.

On Sunday, for the second straight week, Simms threw three interceptions, had passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and failed to get his team in the end zone.

But if there is a switch regarding the Bucs' quarterback position after a 14-3 loss at Atlanta it's this: coach Jon Gruden is putting his arms around Simms.

A week after piling on his 26-year-old passer, Gruden indicated coaches and players need to rally around him.

"I worry about everyone's confidence when things don't go good," Gruden said Monday. "We've got to do a great job of rallying around (Simms) as a staff. I know our football team will do that. He's got to take responsibility to get better and I know he will.

"I have a lot of respect for him and his resolve. I expect him to come back raring and ready to go this week."

Simms has been in this situation before. He struggled mightily last season and lost his first two starts at San Francisco and against Carolina after taking over the job when starter Brian Griese suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Simms engineered a comeback victory over the Redskins the next week and went 5-1 against NFC South teams to help the Bucs to a division title. But Simms said overcoming poor performances in the past two weeks is harder.

The Bucs (0-2) host winless Carolina on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

"I'll be the first to tell you I didn't play as well as I can and there's really no excuse for some of my mistakes," Simms said.

"I think this might be harder. Just looking back at it, last year I at least knew in my mind that those were the first two games I played and I guess mistakes at that point were somewhat understandable. The ones these last two games were not necessarily mental mistakes, but a bad throw here, a stupid decision, things like that where I know I know better and I know I can do better physically."

The Bucs banked their season on Simms, signing him to a one-year, $2.1-million contract and allowing Griese to leave via free agency and join the Chicago Bears.

But for the first time Monday, Gruden acknowledged the Bucs might have misjudged how far Simms had progressed.

"Well, you know, you have to take responsibility for that," Gruden said. "So, obviously the results that we want right now are not at the standards that we want. But, I am going to say this: I'm not going to throw in the towel. We're going to get back to work today, Carolina comes in here 0-2, and they're not feeling real good about themselves either. We are very young into the season.

"I know Chris' first two starts last year didn't go by design, to say the least, and I am hoping that his play picks up significantly. There were some opportunities to make big plays in the game (Sunday) and we've got to make them. And until we do, we are going to struggle against good football teams."

Nobody has struggled like Simms. He has thrown six interceptions and no touchdowns, has a league-low passer rating of 39.9 and has had seven passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.

However, Gruden doesn't have many options. Rookie Bruce Gradkowski is the backup and veteran Tim Rattay is No. 3.

"I don't want to get into all that. That's speculation," Gruden said. "But right now, this situation is what it is. We don't have a lot of experience. I don't see any experience showing up here on the horizon, so some of these negative experiences you've just got to swallow and you've got to move on. Hopefully, he can improve."

Simms is not alone. The Bucs defense allowed the Falcons to rush for 306 yards, the most in club history. Gruden credited the Falcons for implementing a run-option scheme for quarterback Michael Vick that gave the Bucs fits.

Meanwhile, the Bucs failed to get anything out of their running game and Cadillac Williams for the second straight week.

But the Bucs had chances. Simms missed an open Ike Hilliard in the end zone. Another trip to the red zone ended in an interception when he forced a ball to tight end Alex Smith.

Gruden said he can't account for the way Simms appears to have regressed.

"I can only say that he's still a very young player," Gruden said. "It is mystifying to me at times, that as good of a passer as he is, maybe he doesn't hit a couple throws we all expect him to make. But I'm going to say that I see him working his butt off. This means a tremendous amount to him. We're just going to continue to work with him and hopefully he puts it all together.

"But clearly, I think the tipped passes, the interceptions are what's killing us. The turnovers are killing us. We've got to get away from that quick. If we don't, we have a problem."

Simms appeared remarkably upbeat Monday, noting that he does not read newspapers or listen to the radio. And he said teammates are rallying around him.

"My teammates have been unbelievable, they really have," Simms said. "They've always been supportive of me and they've been especially supportive these last 10 days. But I think they all realize that I can do better and that better days will come."