2-22-03, 7:10 p.m.
2-22-03, 10:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The reason the Bengals can think about Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers or Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy with the No. 1 pick is because NFL people think there might be a pretty good quarterback waiting for them with the first pick in the second round.
One of the reasons is Chris Simms of Texas. Another is California's Kyle Boller. But with Simms, there are already murmurings in Cincinnati of another tall, blond second-round quarterback who throws lefty. The Bengals like his pedigree, his poise, and the response to harsh times in football-mad Austin.
"Most people in New York always think he's my dad," said Simms of former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason. "They say, 'Are you Boomer's kid?'"
Of course not. His father is Phil Simms, the Giants' Super Bowl quarterback who now broadcasts NFL games for CBS. But since Chris grew up in New Jersey and was an avid fan of quarterbacks in the '80s and '90s (Troy Aikman became his favorite when his father retired), he bumped into Esiason on occasions in the New York area.
"He always told me to stay cool," Simms said. "That's the one thing. He actually wrote it to me on a football once. It said 'Chris, Stay cool kid."
The 6-4, 221-pound Simms has been cool enough to rise in the draft rankings despite a batch of adversity at Texas. He has taken heat for his poor performances in The Big Game, which includes an 0-4 record with no touchdown passes and 15 turnovers against top ten teams. He was 0-3 against Oklahoma, threw three interceptions his junior year in the Big 12 championship game, and in last month's Senior Bowl threw a red-zone interception that got returned for a touchdown.
"No question he has all the physical tools," said Rick Spielman, senior vice president of football operations for the Dolphins. "There are questions of his play in those big games and that's something that people are going to have to look at. But he's got the physical abilities and the mental part of it as far as the Xs and Os and knowing the game."
But he did throw 26 touchdown passes this season with 12 interceptions for a 143 passer rating and started more than 20 wins for the Longhorns.
"They do ask me. I think they want to see how I handle it," said Simms of the NFL people's questions about his big-game meltdowns. "At least what I think of the comments that are made. I pretty much said the same thing. The whole big game thing always comes back to the Oklahoma game. I can't say more than I had some bad plays here and there, and they just beat us man-to-man."
Simms isn't worried about the whispers. He heard them from the moment he stepped on a football field and basketball court in youth ball. "There's the Simms kid," he could hear.
"I always looked it, 'Well, they're all looking at me, so why don't I just show my stuff and help myself out instead of being critical of myself?"'
The kid has that New York State of mind. Steel-belted confidence. He said he has a pretty good idea where he's going to be drafted but didn't want to say. "You're the ESPN draft expert," he told John Clayton when Clayton asked when he thought he would go.
But there's no question he sees the first round. Check out his reaction to the Bengals' situation.
"Great opportunity," Simms said. "That's all I can say. It's a franchise that will definitely turn around at some point. Who woudn't want to be the No. 1 .pick in the draft? That s a dream come true for a quarterback."
That's a dream for Simms. But the Bengals might be dreaming about him a little later.
STUNTS AND SCREENS:** Indications from the combine Saturday are that the Titans won't make a run to re-sign Bengals Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal two years after he came from Tennessee to Cincinnati. . .
Rams head coach Mike Martz predicts new Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese is on the fast track to be an NFL coordinator. Zampese helped head up Martz's highly regarded passing game as "our information gatherer. He was an idea guy for me. He's really a bright young guy who is making a steady climb. He's got a great future in front of him. He's got a good grasp of what we do on offense in the running game, as well as the passing game." . . .
The Bengals have a connection with recently released return man Jermaine Lewis through Marvin Lewis, but the Dolphins have already been in contact with his agent and may bring him in for a workout soon. The Dolphins have also been talking about re-signing Richmond Webb two years after he left Miami, where he was named to seven Pro Bowls as one of the best left tackles in the game. They see him as a backup for both sides.
OZ KNOWS:** The Bengals will contend right away.
So says Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens general manager and Marvin Lewis' old boss.
"With that structure, and they've got some players. They've got good young players. They will be a presence this year," Newsome said Saturday here at the NFL scouting combine.
Newsome points to the structure and organization that Lewis has borrowed from Ravens head coach Brian Billick, which was handed down by Dennis Green and Bill Walsh.
"(Jon) Gruden has it in Tampa," Newsome said. "From the very first time a player is involved the off-season program, the same structure is in place all way until the end of year."
Newsome said the structure encompasses all phases of the operation, from football to the supplementary pieces supporting the program.
"It's in the type of players you look for over the course of two to three years," Newsome said. "You draft a certain type of player. It's how you practice, how you travel, how the players are presented to things. It's top to bottom. It's first class because it's won a lot of Super Bowls."
Lewis coached under Billick, a Green assistant. Before that, Green coached under Walsh. Lewis also worked on the same staff with Gruden at the University of Pittsburgh.