Posted: 9:15 a.m.
Changing of the guard in the NFL is about as subtle as the one at Buckingham Palace. There's just less pomp and more circumstance.
Defensive tackle John Thornton is one of the brightest guys to play for the Bengals in recent years, so he greets the name "Pat Sims" both jokingly and knowingly.
"He's the heir apparent," Thornton said this week with a smile before he gave Sims the Steeler Speech. "I might not get back in there. Young guy."
"I could have played a lot more;. I could have put more on the table," Sims said after Wednesday's practice. "I was ready. I've been waiting. The more you wait, the more you want to play, the more effort you're going to get."
Thornton, who always knows the score, just celebrated his 32nd birthday, is in the last year of a six-year contract, and the Bengals drafted two big tackles. If he's not going to be here in '09, certainly his be-a-pro legacy is going to be with Sims and Jason Shirley, those third- and fifth-round picks.
"Thornton is always talking to me. Trying to help me. In practice and in games," Sims said. "In the games I didn't dress, I'd still talk to him and try to help with things I saw."
Last Sunday, Thornton (Achilles) missed just his fourth game of his 87 with the Bengals, so he and Sims swapped uniforms. Thornton took the sweats and Sims took the helmet and rotated with Domato Peko and Orien Harris primarily on running downs.
Thornton is back at practice this week, but asked if he can play he said, "If Marvin (Lewis) lets me." Until then, he'll do what he vowed to do in training camp and go out as one of those vets that gave himself to the kids instead of kidding himself.
Of course, the Bengals need the 320-pound Sims to play like a typical big guy. With the Browns stacking up the middle of their D-line in free agency, the Steelers' storied tradition of run defense backed by nose tackle Casey Hampton and right end Aaron Smith, and Baltimore lining up with a first-rounder in Haloti Ngata, the Bengals had to respond in the beefy, bruising AFC North in an effort to erase the "soft" tag stuck to them by the pundits.
They extended the 23-year-old Peko until he's 30 and drafted Sims out of Auburn even though he was a junior and had been flagged because he left the team earlier in his career because of family issues and had inconsistent practice habits.
But Sims played Sunday with the intensity and activity he brought to SEC Saturdays.
Defensive line coach Jay Hayes called it on Draft Day: "What they say about Pat is that no matter what, he played hard on Saturday. Forget all the rest. He plays."
The irony is that Hayes and the Bengals scouts were extremely impressed with how willing and well Sims played with a cast on his broken left hand.
"He was making play after play, and going into this league, you have to have that kind of toughness," Hayes had said back in April, but after Sims recovered from turf toe in his one preseason game he couldn't get into a real game to save his life.
"It's a business; I waited my turn," Sims said. "I was unhappy I wasn't playing, but when I talked to Coach (Hayes) he told me when my time comes, just be ready."
Sims showed good conditioning and provided some stoutness for a run defense that gave up 3.2 yards per carry against the Jets.
"I was rolling out there; I kept moving my feet, giving my all," said Sims, not seeing much of a switch from the college game. "It's not really that different. The speed is different, but once you come off the ball, speed doesn't matter. When you're coming off the ball every play, speed is not a factor."
Thornton says he keeps on Sims about playing fast and keeping up with the speed of the game. That's part of his advice to all young linemen.
"I keep on him about his tempo. It has to be up constantly; he can't be lazy (on some snaps)," Thornton said. "Most young guys take it easy sometimes. That's the biggest thing. You don't want to slow up ever, but he's good."
Sims knows he has to get better.
"I want to get back in the backfield and get me a couple of sacks, put some pressure on the quarterback, make some tackles in the backfield," he said.
The first clue how much Sims can help bolster an AFC North balance of power in the trenches that is mudsling back to the other three teams figures to come Sunday against the pushy Steelers and their timeless running game.
Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca gone? Right guard Kendall Simmons hurt and done? Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker injured?
No problem. Stick in someone named Mewelde Moore and gouge the stingy Jaguars for five yards a pop.
On Thursday, Thornton talked to Sims about playing Pittsburgh.
"It's a fun game," he said. "Every young guy that comes into the league, the Steelers are one of the organizations they always heard about. Every team always gears up for Pittsburgh. It was like that when I was in Tennessee. You know what you're going to get."
Sims appreciated the advice, but he's just looking for Snap No. 40.
"I'm looking at it as another chance to get out there on the field," he said.