Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Simms not surprised by Bucs' quarterback search

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, No. 90, sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms during their game last September at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Simms is competing with three other quarterbacks to be Tampa Bay's starter.

PHOTO: AFP

His friends called, stunned, during the off-season. But for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms, sitting at home in New Jersey, the transaction news this spring brought amusing, and sometimes unsettling, familiarity.

To anyone who has watched Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden's consuming quest to find the perfect quarterback since he joined the Buccaneers in 2002, it must seem as if he will sign "Anyone," Simms said, completing the thought with a laugh.

"I get a kick out of everybody else's reaction," Simms said. "This is six years in a row he's done this. Why is everybody so shocked?"

Simms has a point. Gruden is something of a quarterback collector. He falls in and out of love with quarterbacks at approximately the same rate that a teenage girl develops crushes while flipping through Tiger Beat.

When the Buccaneers opened training camp at the end of last month, they had seven quarterbacks on the roster -- including one, Jake Plummer, who said that he was retiring after Tampa Bay acquired him from Denver in March. That did not stop Gruden from flying to Plummer's home in Idaho in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to play.

The Plummer trade came as the Buccaneers were introducing quarterback Jeff Garcia at a news conference, consummating Gruden's four-year pursuit of Garcia.

Back in New Jersey, Simms was recovering from a season-ending spleen injury he sustained in the third game last year. His practice time has been limited this preseason because of the lingering effects of the injury and his future with the Buccaneers may be endangered.

At this time last year, Simms -- who had gone on a late-season run to lead the Buccaneers to the 2005 playoffs -- was the apple of Gruden's eye. But soon after this year's training camp opened, with Garcia already declared the starter, the Bucs brought the former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper in for a visit. Just in case.

"We need a quarterback," Gruden said after a training camp practice. "We played a sixth-round rookie last year. I'm not going to apologize for looking."

The Buccaneers are now down to four quarterbacks: Garcia, Simms, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski. The biggest challenge so far is finding enough practice time for all of them, particularly because Garcia is learning a new offensive system, one that is so expansive that the playbook, by McCown's estimate, is about the size of three large phone books.

Gruden's incessant hunt is not new. When Gruden started with the Buccaneers, he was not thrilled with the incumbent quarterback, Brad Johnson, until Johnson won a Super Bowl.

His fervor for Simms has waxed and waned over the years, waning when it looked like Brian Griese was the answer to Gruden's quest, waxing when Griese got hurt in 2005 and Simms stepped in to lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs.

Gruden's passion is rooted in a sobering reality: Quarterback is the most important position in football and employing a good one is necessary for success. Employing two good quarterbacks is even better, because few starters make it through the season unscathed.

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