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THE WHATCHA-GOT GUYS // SIMMS MENDING WELL ALL OVER

With each passing day, Chris Simms found it harder to remain patient. Turns out, standing around can wear you out as much as the massive lineman who left him hospitalized.

So, after watching and waiting through the final 13 games of 2006 as the result of a gruesome injury, the Bucs quarterback decided he could wait no more. Besides, he had done enough of that in the trying years before becoming a starter.

Wanting to position himself for a quick return, Simms rushed his way back.

"If I look back at it, the No. 1 mistake I made this offseason was that I started throwing too soon," said Simms, who had his spleen removed in September after sustaining internal injuries in a loss to Carolina.

"And like I said before, I developed some bad habits and, as time goes by, you just keep compounding it."

As if he didn't have enough problems - chief among them the presence of Jeff Garcia.

But Simms, 26, believes his measured response to this latest challenge will pay off. Rather than obsess over the mechanical flaws, he stepped away. He spent the past month with family in his native New Jersey, the plan being to let the time away cure his ills.

"I just knew something wasn't right from the way I felt," he said. "I didn't feel right throwing the ball. And I went back and looked at a lot of old film" and compared.

Simms also sought the advice of several prominent current and former quarterbacks who also rebounded from serious injuries, "and they all kind of went through a lot of the same things I went through," he said.

It was a difficult lesson further complicated by Simms' persistent work ethic.

"He's so conscientious and hard-working that he wants everything to happen in direct relation to how hard he works," quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said. "But I think when you're talking about something medical, sometimes that's not what's going to happen."

Now, having turned things around, Simms believes he is nearing the point where he can challenge Garcia for the starting job. Though Garcia appears well ahead for now, Simms looks solid, too, throwing the ball with his usual velocity. But winning the starting job, in and of itself, isn't foremost on Simms' mind.

"Honestly, I'm not worried about it," he said. "Trust me, I want to play. I want to be the starter. But Jeff's getting most of the reps with the first team, and I just have to keep getting better and keep working hard to make myself better.

"I think we know the situation. I'm here to compete and do my best and see what happens from there. There's always going to be competition. I've never backed down from that, so, we're going to go out there and get after it."

Simms is too smart not to realize he is fighting an uphill battle. On Saturday, for example, Simms was practically a spectator in the 11-on-11 portion of the morning practice, with coach Jon Gruden promising him the lion's share of the reps in the afternoon. Thunderstorms chased the team indoors for a walkthrough in the afternoon and Simms never got those reps.

Still, Gruden maintains that Simms is a factor.

"On the field, (Simms) has had some ups and downs, but he's had some ups and that's a great thing to lean on," Gruden said. "All I can say is he's in a competitive situation with Jeff and the rest of the guys."

Asked what message he has tried to convey to Simms, Gruden said: "We're going to play the guy who deserves to play. But don't worry about the things you can't control. Worry about your performance and, at the end of the day, you're going to have plenty of shots to become the starter or the No. 2 guy or whatever you deserve."

All that will be determined later. In the meantime, all Simms can do is hope his patience pays off.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at (813) 226-3377 or sholder@sptimes.com.

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