Tales from the SunnySide: Chris Simms

When the Denver Broncos bargained with Chris Simms this offseason, they believed they were taking on a talented backup quarterback to cover for Jay Cutler if he went down to injury. Coach Josh McDaniels felt that Simms had the pedigree and the potential to be a solid backup, and the higher-than-normal contract cost backed that up. It didn't take long for Simms to receive a chance to show that he is more than a backup - he's currently competing against Kyle Orton for the starting position. In order for us to start understanding the value of this, we have to go back to where it all started.

You certainly could argue that Chris Simms has the best NFL pedigree, being the son of famous NFL QB Phil Simms. He was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey on August 29, 1980 and attended high school in nearby Franklin Lakes, NJ. A standout athlete, he played basketball as well as football. He was a two-time All-State football player and the 1998 USA Today Offensive Player of the Year. He initially committed to the University of Tennessee and then de-committed, choosing instead to attend the University of Texas, where he would major in history.

Arriving at Texas, Simms found that he was in a long conflict for the starting job with Major Applewhite. Each of them did well at various times and weakened at others. Their battle went back and forth for two full years. Over the course of Simms' tenure at the University of Texas, he set several records; their current status follows...

University of Texas Official Records

  • 3rd Pass Efficiency (Career) - 138.4.
  • 4th Best Winning Percentage (Career) - 26-6, 0.812 (1999-2002)
  • 3rd most touchdowns (Career) - 58 (1999-2002)
  • 3rd Most touchdowns (Single Season) - 26 (Behind Colt McCoy places 1+2, tied with Vince Young for 3rd)
  • 2nd Most touchdowns (Single Game) - 5 (at Oklahoma State, 2001, behind Colt McCoy)
  • 1st Most passing yards in a game (vs Nebraska) - 419
  • 2nd in Single Season Passing Yards in a single season - 3303 (behind Major Applewhite)
  • 5th and 6th in most passes completed without an interception: 5th. 88 (2000), 6th 87 (2001)

Major Applewhite outdid him for two of those records. Applewhite was too small to play QB in the National Football League, but he was a tough competitor at the college level. One of Applewhite's strengths was much better at not turning over the ball, something that Simms tended to do. In fact, in 2001 Simms threw 3 interceptions in the Big 12 title game against the #7 Cornhuskers. Applewhite came in and rallied the team, although they would fall just short of victory. However, that game earned Applewhite the chance to start the 2001 Holiday Bowl against Washington, in which Texas pulled out a 47-43 comeback victory.

Simms would eventually take the helm, and in 2003 Simms started all 16 games. He led his team in five preseason games with 4 TDs. He also completed 27-of-42 pass attempts for 239 yards with a passer rating of 101.2

During his last two seasons, Simms established himself as one of the best QBs in Longhorns history. Simms played in 43 games during his time at Texas, starting 32 of them.  He would leave having completed 535-of-911 pass attempts (58.7%) for 7,097 yards, 58 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. He was also the Texas record holder for career completion percentage (58.7%) and passer rating (138.36)

To understand how he was seen in the community, I'll offer this;:during Simms' junior year, Jimmy Burch, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted,

COPYRIGHT 2002 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Byline: Jimmy Burch

AUSTIN, Texas - Three years after arriving on campus as the most-celebrated signee of coach Mack Brown's first banner recruiting class, Texas quarterback Chris Simms remains college football's version of the ink-blot test.

Some look at him and see a strong-armed, Heisman Trophy contender capable of leading the Longhorns to a national championship. Others see an overhyped, mistake-prone son of a Super Bowl hero who does not even project as a first-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

Simms has created this dichotomy of opinions despite a 15-4 career record as Texas' starter because he has accumulated sterling statistics against the have-nots of the college football world while struggling against the top teams on the Longhorns' schedule.

Simms is unbeaten in 13 starts against unranked opponents but is 2-4 against Top 25 teams during his college career, with twice as many interceptions (12) as touchdown passes (six) in those high-stakes matchups. In his past three starts against top 10 foes, Simms has offset 12 turnovers (11 interceptions, one fumble) with one touchdown pass in losses to Oregon, Oklahoma and Colorado.

That inconsistency would haunt him throughout his career. As his pre-draft scouting reports would indicate, Chris Simms has always been a player of contradictions. His decision making was suspect and yet his courage was inarguable. He would destroy lesser opponents and crumble before stronger ones. Pro Football Weekly did perhaps the best job of summing up his performance to that date:

Chris Simms
SELECTED BY NEW YORK , ROUND 4, PICK 1, OVERALL PICK 97
QB | (6-4, 220, 4.82) | Texas
By Pro Football Weekly

Notes: High school All-American and USA Today Offensive Player of the Year. Also played basketball. Son of former Giants QB Phil Simms but, unlike his father, throws left-handed. Originally signed with Tennessee to replace Peyton Manning but shifted gears and went to Texas. Played as a freshman and started once. Started five games and the Holiday Bowl in 2000 and the first 12 games in '01. Would have entered the '02 draft had he not been benched in the finale of his junior season. Completed 19-of-26 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in '99. Completed 67-117-1,064-8-7 in 2000; and 214-362-2,603-22-11 in '01. Started all 13 games in '02 and completed 235-396-3,207-26-12 and was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award for the second consecutive year. Also named third-team All-Big 12 by the coaches.

Positives: Good size, work ethic and character. Has a good setup, touch and accuracy on short-to-medium throws. Smart with pocket awareness. Good on play-action fakes and the bootleg. Can make some throws on the run and find the No. 2 receiver. Has short accuracy and a better-than-good arm. Hard-working. Has been overhyped throughout his career and faced unrealistic expectations, yet has handled it very maturely. Has average mobility and is a student of the game.

Negatives: Streaky, erratic and has tunnel vision. Locks on to one receiver, lacks judgment and presses in big games, when he forces balls. Does not have a great arm and measures a lot of throws. Lacks speed and has average athletic ability. Has an inconsistent delivery point. Has little scrambling ability or elusiveness. Does not anticipate receivers well on crossing routes. Has had an up-and-down career. Throws late and behind receivers too often, but because he played with great wideouts, his completion percentage is misleading. Is more like former USC and Browns QB Paul McDonald than his father. Has an inconsistent delivery ranging from three-quarters to sidearm. Lacks great intuitiveness.  Gets in trouble when he tries to force the ball into cracks. Overrates his arm and accuracy. Lacks great timing. Can improve his decision-making.

Summary: Simms has many NFL tools, but his decision-making and performance under pressure have to improve for him to realize his potential. Does not have his father's talent, but has a stronger arm and could be a better pro quarterback than he was at Texas.

Simms was drafted with the last pick of the 3rd round (94th) in 2004 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were looking for a successor for Brad Johnson, and took on Simms as a third QB.  He remained so for the start of 2004. In August of 2004, just before the start of his 1st NFL season, Simms married Danielle Marie Puleo, whom he first met in high school, in August of 2004. In 2006, Danielle would give birth to a baby girl Charlotte Elizabeth. 

He advanced to second string in 2004 after Brian Griese had a terrible preseason. Brad Johnson, the former second string, also faltered in preseason and started the season badly. He was pulled, and Simms would go in against the Seahawks on September 19th. He went 21 for 32, 175 yards and an interception, but with no TDs. It was good enough to land him the starting job nearly a month later against the Saints on October 10th. Simms would start 5 for 8 and 75 yards before he bruised his shoulder and would go out for three weeks. Griese won all three games, and Simms lost the starting job. Griese kept it for all of '04 except the final game against Arizona. Simms started that game and threw for 224 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Simms played in 5 games over this year, throwing 42 completions on 73 attempts and compiling a 61.4 QB rating.

He was still the 2nd-string QB behind Griese at the start of 2005. with Luke McCown at 3rd string. Griese was injured when a defender rolled onto his leg on October 30th against Miami. He only threw 6 of 10 for 69 yards and not TDs, but compiled an 80.8 QB rating.

The following week against San Francisco, Simms started and threw 21-34 for 264 yards and 1 TD, but with 2 INT, under-throwing his receivers repeatedly. The lack of production wasn't entirely Chris' fault. I found this in the history section of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' website, describing that game:  

"Simms was also sacked five times and may have contributed to the protection problems by holding the ball for an excessive period on some plays. Twice Simms directed impressive drives into or near the 49ers' red zone, only to have critical sacks kill the touchdown opportunities and make for long field goal attempts. Matt Bryant converted on a career-long 47-yard kick just before halftime but missed from 52 yards early in the fourth quarter. Later, with the Bucs trailing by five with two minutes to play, Simms was sacked by DT Bryant Young and fumbled the ball away on the first play of the Bucs' last real hope."

His numbers (25-42, 259, 1TD, 2INT) were almost identical the next week against Carolina. He played better for the rest of the season, however, and ended 2005 with a passer rating of 81.4, 191 of 313 for 2035 yards and 61%, with 10 TDs and 7 INT. He had 6 wins and 5 losses. Stumbling past the regular season with the 25th-ranked offense in the league, the Bucs made the playoffs but lost in the first game against Washington, 17-10.

It was enough to grant Simms the starting job the following year (2006). However, he was flat-out dreadful in the first two games. In the third quarter Carolina was leading 17-0 but Simms pushed his Bucs back to a 21-20 deficit. Even though a questionable hit ruptured his spleen in the 2nd quarter, in a rare display of bravery, Simms finished the game, even leading a final 4th quarter field goal drive that took the lead before his Bucs succumbed to Carolina 26-24on a Carolina FG with 7 seconds left on September 24th. He had emergency surgery immediately after. Simms states that he lost 5 pints of blood and had his famous spleen removed. He even used this for good, and we know that he has led successful blood drives ever since.

At this point, his career found itself at a crossroads. Stories differ depending on whose side you are on. We do know that Simms signed a two-year extension on December 12th of 2006 but went to training camp in 2007 as the 2nd-string QB behind Jeff Garcia. Due to complications from his recovery (and, possibly, the play of Garcia) he didn't start a game that year and on October 9th, the Bucs placed him on IR for the remainder of the season.

As events around the 2008 draft unfolded, the Tampa Bay team and Simms developed differing stories as to what happened. Simms claims that they had repeated offers for him around the time of the draft. TB denies it. Simms' relationship with head coach Jon Gruden worsened significantly during this period, and Simms claims that the way Gruden treated Simms during his recovery from the spleen injury was at fault. He said, "The relationship between me and coach Gruden, it's broken," adding, "And I don't see any way it's going to get better." Simms also said that he will never forgive Gruden; He also added that he still respects the Buccaneers as an organization. Brian Griese had this to say:

"I think Jon's a great coach, I think he is. But this is a tough business. I've been on the other side. I understand exactly where Chris is coming from. Chris is going to be a heck of a player once he gets his opportunity."

What we know is that TB showed no signs of wanting to play him, and they released him on August 30th of 2008. He would sign with Tennessee on Sept 9th, after the strange issues around Vince Young's emotional state became public. He backed up Kerry Collins until October 3rd when he was released to make room for a punter, Josh Miller. He was re-signed on Oct 6th and finished the season with the Titans. Denver picked him up in early March of 2009.

The real question at this point is this; over the past three years, has Chris Simms recovered fully from his injuries? The doctors, both his and the Broncos, say yes. Is he mentally and physically comfortable with the violent nature of the game and sure that he can handle it? He says an emphatic yes. With that behind him, has he matured? Has he learned both consistency in his mechanics and maturity in his decision making? We can assume by his contract - in the $3-million range - that Josh McDaniels thinks that either he has, or he will. He's in a very real competition for the starting QB slot with former Chicago QB Kyle Orton, who most peg as the front-runner.

The most interesting thing about Chris Simms is what we can't yet know - has he learned while carrying a clipboard? Can he overcome his weaker tendencies - poor decisions and inconsistent throws - to become the quarterback that many have believed that he can be? No one, except perhaps Josh McDaniels and Simms himself, can know. The fans haven't seen him throw in years. When he is throwing in training camp and preseason, could we see that he has overcome his early mistakes?

Something that a lot of fans don't know is that in 2005 Chris Simms had better numbers in throwing the deep pass (21+ yards from the LOS) than Jay Cutler did in 2008. Surprised? I was. He's a lot more accurate with the vertical game than Cutler was, although we should keep in mind that the sample size on Simms was much smaller and may not carry over to a full season in a vertical game, if that's required. Throwing to the right, Simms also has a much better passer rating. He throws better over the middle - QB rating of 100.3 compared to 90.3 for Cutler. The fact is that each of the QBs involved this offseason - Cutler, Orton and Simms - have strengths that the other do not have and weaknesses that the others do not share. To think otherwise is simplistic, but it is neither complete nor realistic. Each brings challenges and opportunities, and to try to ignore that is to buy into the MSM willingness to think and speak only in simplicities. Reality is never that simple.

The other reality is that despite a certain level of understandable rust, Simms could well have improved since his 2005 season. It's not realistic to think that he hasn't worked, learned and developed over that time, but we cannot know how far. That story will be told in training camp and preseason.

There's a second story waiting to be told; a lot of folks suspect that Josh McDaniels didn't draft Tom Brandstater to leave him a backup forever. Can Simms keep the #2 slot, even if he loses the starting position to Kyle Orton? Ironically, before the Cutler trade, many were calling for Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo to bring Simms on to back up Kyle Orton. The outcome of this competition is the Tale that will be told in training camp and beyond. We will just have to wait and see.

Bring on Training Camp!

Originally posted at MHR

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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