TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Chris Simms ended his first interview in months by jokingly thanking reporters for remembering him.
The Tampa Bay quarterback hasn't played in a regular season game since having his spleen removed in September 2006, but he's progressed enough in the past six weeks to believe he will be ready to compete for a job with the Buccaneers in the summer.
``I'm finally feeling like myself again,'' said Simms, who missed the final 13 games of 2006 before spending most of this season on injured reserve.
``There were times where, trust me, I said, 'I don't know if I'm ever going to be back the way I was before the injury.' But the last month and a half, I've been throwing a lot, and I have no reason to think I won't be my old self.''
Simms led Tampa Bay to the playoffs in 2005 and entered what would have been his first full season as a starter with high expectations. But he struggled in the first two games of 2006, then underwent an emergency splenectomy a few hours after a loss to Carolina in Week 3.
Although the Bucs were optimistic enough about the chance for a full recovery that they gave Simms a two-year, $7 million contract extension, the 27-year-old struggled to regain his form during offseason workouts and training camp.
Simms appeared in one preseason game in August, taking six snaps. In a surprise move, the Bucs began this season with four quarterbacks instead of releasing or placing Simms on injured reserve.
The fifth-year pro said it wasn't until injuries at other positions forced coach Jon Gruden to put him on IR that Simms finally got a handle of why he was having difficulty throwing the ball with accuracy.
``In training camp and preseason, I thought I was rusty. I knew it was a serious injury, but thought I just had to keep staying at it and staying at it. I basically found there was a little more to the problem than just that,'' Simms said.
``It's pretty common with traumatic surgery. I had a lot of muscles that were shut off around the scar. When you have a bad scar like that, your body kind of knows to shut off the muscles to protect the scar. So that's why I lost power and just didn't feel like myself throwing the ball. I had muscles that weren't doing anything. They were just sitting there hanging out.''
Simms consulted with doctors who identified the problem and told him he could correct it with some basic exercises.
``It's not like they weren't capable of working. The way it was explained to me was I probably started off with steps three, four and five without doing steps one and two,'' he said, adding he thinks he's on track to be ready to compete for a job in training camp.
The question he can't answer is where he fits in Tampa Bay's plans.
Jeff Garcia led the Bucs to the NFC South title and a first-round playoff loss this season, backed up by Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski.
``I see myself back here, hopefully. It's not all up to me,'' Simms said. ``It's just the way it is now in this league. I'm just going to continue to worry about things I can worry about. That's getting myself back to where I need to be.''
Gruden isn't providing any clues.
``It's a strange injury. There haven't been a lot of players that have had it. How long does it take to resume playing? How do you resume playing?'' the coach said.
``In 2005, when we won the division, we were excited about building our team around a young quarterback. ... But I don't know the answers to all these questions. He's a great kid. It tears me up to see him unable to compete because he misses the game and he misses the guys.''

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