MIAMI GARDENS — Jon Gruden told Chris Simms that he wanted the fifth-year quarterback to "sniff" the huddle again.
That's about all Simms was able to do on Saturday.
Simms, perhaps the most talked-about third-string quarterback in the NFL, took his first live snaps of the preseason with nine minutes left in the third quarter of Tampa Bay's 31-28 win over Miami.
Simms' appearance lasted just six plays. He handed off three times to Earnest Graham, leading to a first down. Then his pass to tight end Keith Heinrich was dropped by the tight end. After a Graham run, Simms shoveled an illegal forward pass to Graham on an otherwise splendid play.
Both Gruden and Simms said they planned for Simms to play just one possession. Simms finished 0-of-1.
"I didn't think much of it really," Gruden said. "We were only able to get him in there for four or five plays. But I was happy to get him in there and we hope to get him in there a lot more next week."
The next possession, Bruce Gradkowski entered the game for Simms.
Simms said it was great to get back in there.
"In his (Gruden's) words, he wanted me to ‘smell the huddle' again," Simms said. "I smelled it, it smelled the same as I remember."
But Simms wasn't sure where the performance left him in the race to make the opening-day roster, as the Bucs have three able-bodied quarterbacks who don't have physical issues.
"I hope so," Simms said about staying in Tampa Bay. "I really hope so. That's all I can tell you. I love being here and I want to be here."
But that may not happen. Gradkowski bolstered his case to back up Jeff Garcia by leading the Bucs to two touchdowns after he relieved Simms.
The second touchdown was the game winner, as he converted a third down and a fourth down on passes to Chas Gessner to put the Bucs in the red zone. Then, Gradkowski floated a touchdown pass to Paris Warren in the back of the end zone with 4:51 left to give the Bucs the lead.
Gradkowski finished 10-of-16 for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Luke McCown — who is currently the No. 2 quarterback — was 5-of-10 for 57 yards and was sacked twice.
Simms has battled soreness in his throwing elbow most of the preseason, forcing him to miss about five days of serious passing work during training camp, in addition to the first two preseason games.
Simms is less than a year removed from a life-threatening spleen injury that required surgery and five pints of blood after he suffered it against Carolina on Sept. 25, 2006. Simms began throwing in December, but admitted earlier this preseason that he may have started throwing too soon.
He also admitted that he's compensated for the injury in his throwing motion, which led to problems with his fundamentals and may have led to the sore throwing elbow.
He reiterated on Saturday that, physically, he's 100 percent. He's simply struggling with throwing the football.
"As far as throwing the ball, I'm nowhere near 100 percent yet, but it's getting better week by week," Simms said.
Tampa Bay generated its best offensive output of the preseason so far, scoring four touchdowns. Included was their first defensive touchdown, a 2-yard interception return by linebacker Cato June on the Dolphins' first possession, and a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia to Joey Galloway in the second quarter.
NOTES: Tampa Bay released this quote from general manager Bruce Allen regarding wide receiver David Boston's arrest on Thursday: "We have investigated the David Boston situation and feel that we have an understanding of the facts. At this time, we have seen no objective evidence to support the charges that were brought against him."
Boston was arrested on Thursday and charged with DUI in Pinellas Park. He passed a breath test for alcohol, but a urine analysis is pending.
Boston played against Miami, making one run for 18 yards.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.