Simms adds needed spark, but keep Johnson
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 20 September 2004

With the exception of touchdowns, he has everything you want in a quarterback. He has youth. He has charisma. He has quick feet. He throws long, crowd-pleasing incompletions. He has bloodlines; for him, quarterback is the family business. So tell me. Why wouldn't Tampa Bay be in love with Chris Simms today?

He is new. He is different. He is athletic and amiable, exciting and energetic. He is the next big thing. Also, he is blond. I know. Let's make him king. An old debate begins anew today. The Tampa Bay offense has been found guilty of being the same old mess, and Brad Johnson is accused of not being the cure. What further evidence do you need to turn a team over to the kid? Simms has a fresher arm and friskier legs on an offense that needs all the spark it can muster.

Today, that is certain to make him a popular quarterback across Tampa Bay. Fans always love young quarterbacks. Especially when they knew their dads. Here's the thing, though. It isn't time for Simms yet.

What you saw Sunday is typical of young quarterbacks in new lineups. They excite you a little bit. They disappoint you a little. They show you what the future looks like, then they show you why you should be patient. So, before you declare Simms the new heavyweight champion of the Bucs' offensive huddle, recognize this: Simms didn't knock anyone out Sunday. He brought a little life to the lifeless and a bit of hope to the hopeless, which is no small task, but he didn't exactly ace the exam.

In summation, here's what Simms did: He led the Bucs offense to two field goals, which, to be fair, is more than Johnson has done this season. He threw a long incompletion that drew the most rousing cheer of any offensive play in the past two seasons, a sad fact that says more about the disappointment of the past than the tightness of the spiral. He led the team downfield in the final two minutes and had a chance to win, although it should be noted that 39 of the yards came on three penalties against the Seahawks.

In all, he was a wild colt competing in the Kentucky Derby, an up-and-down, all-or-nothing quarterback. He had a 39-yard completion. He fumbled after holding the ball too long. He led a 71-yard drive. He threw an interception to end the final threat. It was a spirited adventure, granted, but it was a little bumpy. Here is the question, then. Are you ready to turn your season over to that type of ride? Is Jon Gruden?

For Gruden, that is the burning question. Yes, the offense has been stagnant, and no, Brad Johnson is not off to a flying start. Now, the second drive of the second quarter of the second game seems like a fairly quick hook on Johnson, but given the size of the mess in front of Gruden, it's quibbling. What does Gruden do next week, however? Does he stay with the 24-year-old Simms and hope the kid plays better? Does he decide this is the time to turn over the Bucs' fortunes to him?

If I were Gruden, and this wouldn't be the popular move, I would return to Johnson. The Bucs' next game is on the road, in prime time, against Oakland. I would bring in both quarterbacks, and I'd tell Johnson he's getting the start, but that once again, the hook might come quickly. I'd tell Simms to get ready, because the next time he takes over, it might be for good. That way, you aren't telling your team that, at 0-2, you're starting to prepare for the future. You're telling Johnson you expect more. You're telling Simms that it takes more than two field goals to inherit the wind.

Honestly, shouldn't it take more than that, even for a live wire on a blown transformer of an offense? Don't buy for a minute the rhetoric that the switch isn't a criticism of Johnson. Of course it is. Yanking a quarterback's team out from under him is the ultimate criticism. Over his four seasons in Tampa Bay, Johnson has shown us his strengths and he has shown us his shortcomings. He's a tough, competitive quarterback who, given time, can carve up an opponent. Surrounded by a creaky, cranky offense, however, he can be plodding and maddenly cautious. On the other hand, do you really look at this offense and think Johnson is the guy standing in its way?

By Simms' admission, he deserved no more than a C+ grade for his play Sunday. "I made some great plays," he said, "and I made some bonehead plays." Asked if he thought he was the starting quarterback, Simms said, "I might have been until that last throw. That screwed everything up."

Most of us, of course, love Simms' potential. Give him a couple more relief appearances, a visit to the end zone or two, and this will be his team. In the meantime, maybe Gruden will search for a bit of a spark on other positions. Wide receiver, where Michael Clayton and Charles Lee should be on the field more, seems like a good place to start. Yes, Simms is going to be a terrific player. On the other hand, it isn't someday yet.