Ravens looking to rattle Bucs' Simms

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Chris Simms' NFL pedigree as the son of Phil Simms represents the starter to virtually every conversation regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback. Even though Simms has been in the league for four seasons and emerged as the established starter last season when Brian Griese hurt his knee, people still talk about his family connection to the past.

About how his legendary father completed 22 of 25 passes as the quarterback for the New York Giants to lead a Super Bowl XXI rout over the Denver Broncos. "I remember just about everything," Simms said. "I was one of those kids when I was four or five, I could have told you every player on every team, their number. I still go back from time to time and watch his Super Bowl performance. "For me, it's normal. My dad's still my dad to me. To everyone else, he's the Super Bowl quarterback from the Giants. I was definitely very fortunate the way I was brought up. Some of the best moments of my life were watching my dad play." The acumen Simms gained during last season's run to an unexpected NFC South division title will probably prove to be more critical, though, when the Buccaneers host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Although Simms completed 61 percent of his passes last season for 2,035 yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 81.4, the perception around the league about the 26-year-old New Jersey native is that he still has more to prove. That testing ground will begin in earnest again in the season opener as he duels with a secondary headlined by former NFL Defensive Player of the Year safety Ed Reed. "He's young, but, at the same time, he's a good quarterback," Reed said. "If you look at him on tape, there are some good things he's doing. "Of course, there's some bad stuff, but we all have something that we don't like. He does enough for Jon Gruden and the offense to work." Simms has developed a thick skin for criticism after enduring years of quarterback controversies at the University of Texas between himself and Major Applewhite, along with those annual Longhorns' losses to archrival Oklahoma. Plus, there was a lengthy, at times, rocky apprenticeship on the bench behind Brad Johnson and Griese. Last season, Simms began realizing the potential innate in a left-hander with a live arm and emerging pocket awareness. Tampa Bay, which was picked to finish last in its division, wound up winning six of its final 10 games with Simms under center. "He's very mature for a young quarterback," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "With every outing, you just see him getting better. He's got a great future." During a career-high 10 starts last season, Simms improved markedly on his 2004 production of 467 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in five games. Now, he's firmly entrenched as the starter ahead of backup Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski. Playing this season under a $2.1 million contract, he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in six months. "Chris Simms has a lot of physical talent," Gruden said. "He's a very good passer. I think his strength certainly centers around his physical talent and his understanding of our system. I think that will help us." The unofficial Simms scouting report includes notations about his competitiveness, ability to withstand a hit at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, that he's a fundamentally sound pocket passer with an over-the-top delivery who can make all the throws. The knocks on his game have always been: a lack of top-flight mobility, improvisational skills and accuracy on deep passes. "He's been around the game forever as a quarterback's son, and he has a lot of desire and enthusiasm," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He's coming into his own. He's getting his swagger back. "He can play free and sometimes when players are let loose they can hurt you. We have to rattle him and give him different looks." Simms is building a reputation for being a film savant, wearing out footage of the best defenses. It didn't take hours of study for him to realize the challenge he'll face against Reed, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, pass rusher Terrell Suggs and cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. "It will probably be one of, or maybe the best, secondary we play all year," Simms said. "I don't think they care about my youth or whoever is at quarterback. They know what they are. "They know what they want to do and they never make it easy on any quarterback. They threw everything at Peyton Manning, too, and he's pretty experienced." That sounds like the Ravens' traditional game plan. However, Lewis sounds like his intense concentration is firmly devoted toward corralling running back Carnell Williams. Nicknamed 'Cadillac,' Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie last year. "You watch Tampa and you see where their heartbeat is running the ball," Lewis said. "Jon Gruden likes to establish the running game. He likes to play a man's game. So to put our focus on Chris Simms because he's young, we could be fooling ourselves." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

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