Matt Simms walked off the rookie bus at SUNY Cortland, luggage in tow, and looked up at the media spectacle that had nothing to do with him. The first-year quarterback waited in line July 26 to officially check into New York Jets training camp. Fresh off a career at El Camino College, a community college in Torrance, Calif., during which he finished only one season as the starter, he checked in as the longest of shots to make the team. The Jets’ seasoned veterans fielded questions from a New York media throng hell-bent on reporting the latest in the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow quarterback non-controversy. Nobody (else) asked about Simms, son of 1987 Superbowl Most Valuable Player Phil Simms and younger brother of former NFL quarterback Chris Simms.
“They’re two really highly touted players. And, you know, really, my focus is just pleasing the coaches and doing my job and going out there every day and working hard. And you know you just can’t worry about stuff like that, so you just got to go and play and have fun,” Simms said.
Simms was right. After all, the fourth-stringer’s task is a simple one: make the team. Basic math says he won’t. NFL teams typically carry just three quarterbacks through the regular season. Sanchez is the presumptive starter. Tebow, whom Denver traded to the Jets in March, is perhaps the most versatile football player-cum-quarterback in the league. Greg McElroy, the Jets’ third-stringer, enters his third season in the league. Simms is the odd man out with plenty to prove. Worse yet, the practices he needs to prove he belongs are limited by his spot on the depth chart.
On July 27, the team’s first day of training camp, Simms threw four live passes. Yet before he set foot in Cortland, he caught the attention of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. “He’s obviously heard it a lot less than some of the other guys, but I like some of the things he’s done and that’s why he’s kind of won a few challenges here right now,” Sparano said. “I think I’ve been really impressed with that.”
During rookie weekend and other organized team activities, Simms starred just as much on the field as off it. Sparano said Simms took “full advantage” of his time with his coaches, reading over the team’s new playbook and picking the brains of his superiors. Throughout the first day of practice Simms, 23, leaned in for chats with Sparano, head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh. More time was spent in the classroom than in the huddle.
“When you’re talking about football, really, no question is a dumb question,” Simms said. “You know it’s better to know than not to know. And, you know, in a situation like mine you just got to know everything because you never know what play you’re going to get when you do get a chance.” You know?
With relatively few chances on the practice field Simms has little room for error. Even McElroy had more chances at the beginning of camp. The pressure on each defensive read, handoff and throw is magnified. But Simms prefers not to think that way.
“Really, you know, you just try to let it go. You know, just try and go through your reading progression and just let it go and just play,” he said. “You know you don’t want to be out there thinking too much because that’s when bad things happen, so I try to have a clear mind and remove all the clutter away.”
Ultimately, Simms’ 2012-2013 NFL fate will be decided in scrimmages and preseason games. And while the Jets’ preseason began Aug. 10, Simms made the most of his first full-team scrimmage. At the end of the Aug. 4 scrimmage—attendance 9,420—Simms picked out Demario Riley for a 13-yard pass before hitting Raymond Webber on a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Afterward Ryan said that sort of play was exactly what he was looking for in players struggling to make the team. The Jets’ roster currently holds 90 players. That number will be cut to 75 on Aug. 25 and 53 by Sept. 2. Simms did not play in the Jets’ preseason opener Aug. 10, a 17-6 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals.
At the beginning of camp, with the New York press corps clamoring for prime interview position around Sanchez and Tebow, Simms was shocked to find an audio recorder in his own face. When asked by this reporter what he needed to do to make the team, Simms said, “Move the offense, you know, run the system, correctly. Do the right things, you know, just don’t do my own thing out there. And score touchdowns. Simple job, right?”