The last time quarterback Chris Simms scanned the defense in an NFL game, he wasn't worried about locating the opposing safety. He was worried about his own safety.
Simms, whose recovery from a splenectomy 10 months earlier left him unable to throw accurately, participated in six plays against the Dolphins in last summer's third preseason game.
He threw a short pass over the middle to tight end Keith Heinrich, who dropped it. Two plays later, he scrambled forward for a yard before being flagged for an illegal forward pass, forcing the Bucs to punt. His final passing stat: 0-for-1.
"I can't even say what I was thinking," he says now of that outing. "Certain pass plays I knew I was in trouble, because I knew I wasn't capable of throwing a 20-yard out if Coach (Jon) Gruden called that play last year. I wasn't able to manage it. I was thinking of ways I was going to survive the game and at least move the team down the field, somehow, some way."
Simms did not play again and was placed on injured reserve several weeks later, his five-year career in jeopardy.
Tonight, a healthy Simms is expected to enter the preseason opener at Miami sometime in the second half. He is one of five quarterbacks on the roster and has no illusions of still being with the Bucs after Labor Day.
Instead, his task is to catch the eye of 31 other teams.
"I think it is another step, but for some reason, I'm not really as nervous for that as I was the first two days of practice," Simms said. "I feel like I've got my feet under me, and I've definitely got my confidence back. My timing and rhythm are back. So I feel this will be easier.
"I'm sure I'll be nervous. But I think I'm more excited than anything right now."
Simms, 27, says he won't be focused on trying to impress the rest of the league.
"I can't think about it that way, or I lose track of what's really going to go down,'' he said. ''I'm just going to focus on my part and however many drives I get, just make the best of it."
That's what he has been doing in training camp. He skipped the offseason workouts, trying to force his trade or release, and claimed his relationship with Gruden couldn't be fixed.
But he is getting enough reps to knock some of the rust off.
"That was the best thing for me," Simms said. "I got to do the two-minute drill at the end of practice. … Even doing the scout team stuff. Just getting out there and throwing."
The team's current plan is to keep four quarterbacks on the active roster, including rookie Josh Johnson. And Simms isn't likely to be among them.
Still, his confidence is growing every day. Tonight is another big step.
"Back in the day, I would've dropped back and hit that third step and said, 'He's about to be open, I'm going to fire it through the hole,' " Simms said. "I'm getting more and more like that."