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Bucs: QB spark needed

Whether they saw it coming or not _ and most did not _ the majority of players in the Bucs' losing locker room agreed something had to be done to spark the struggling offense.

Chris Simms was the flint.

When coach Jon Gruden pulled veteran quarterback Brad Johnson in favor of Simms early in the second quarter, the offense seemed to perk up under the direction of the second-year pro.

"Anything to get a spark," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We've got to jump-start this offense and get guys to realize that changes can be made. I wish we would have scored a touchdown, or two, or three. But we'll keep fighting."

Most players were surprised by the move this early in the season, that early in the game.

"It caught me off guard," right guard Cosey Coleman said. "I really didn't see it coming. But he was a highly drafted quarterback and eventually you saw that coming down the line in the future. The fact that it happened on this day caught me off guard."

Center John Wade got the news from Simms, who came over to smack the hand of every offensive linemen when he got the news, only to be chased away by line coach Bill Muir.

"We're in the middle of a game, it's not like I'm saying, "Oh, God.' You're in the middle of a battle," Wade said. "I know he's poised in the huddle and I know he knows the system."

Teammates said Simms showed no signs of being nervous in his first NFL game, that he was poised and calm while bringing energy to the huddle. But results were mixed.

Simms was 21 of 32 for 175 yards, but fumbled inside the 5-yard line and struggled running the hurry-up offense with a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute.

"He brings a lot of energy. Youth does that sometimes," Barber said. "But it also brings a lot of mistakes into the equation. I think you have to look at it and say we got a little bit of both."

Veteran receiver Tim Brown seemed less surprised than most that Gruden turned to Simms, though he did not consider it a poor reflection on Johnson, who led the team to a Super Bowl victory two seasons ago.

"You're talking about a kid who everybody thinks is going to be a phenom, so the hook maybe is a little quicker than it would be in other situations," Brown said. "But Brad is a consummate professional. It was good to see Brad handle the situation the way he did and start helping the kid out and trying to help the team win."

Recognizing the difficult circumstances under which Simms entered the game, several players said they picked up their play to try to help the young quarterback.

"You know he has the weight of the world on his shoulder and everybody on the offense has to step their game up that much more to make the transition as smooth as possible," Coleman said. "He's our general out there on the field. Any time you've got a young guy at quarterback, the veteran guys around him have to rally."

Rookie receiver Michael Clayton said it was only natural for the dynamic of the huddle to change with Simms in the game.

"The momentum these guys develop behind him because he's a young guy is different," Clayton said. "This was his first shot out and Brad has been here. It's going to be different and it's going to be a little more upbeat. But we didn't win, so we have to find a way to create our identity."

Still, most liked what they saw from Simms.

"He was trying to make plays," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "I don't know what Jon was thinking behind it, but whatever it did, it gave us a spark offensively. It helped us out.

"But we still didn't win the game, so I'm not saying that was or was not the answer. But it did give us a spark and that's what we need. Hopefully, as a team, we can rally behind whomever is the quarterback and get this thing going."