Frustration was not the right word. It was more like some of the veteran wide receivers were flummoxed.
The Tennessee Titans were in the midst of a workout, and the offense — as usual — rotated quarterbacks. Chris Simms got his chance to work with the first-team offense, and that meant an adjustment for the pass catchers.
Simms is left-handed, which means the ball rotates differently when he throws it than when a right-hander does. That fact did not go unnoticed by some of his targets, who commiserated when they stepped aside and let some younger receivers have a try.
“Receivers always complain for the first week or 10 days and say how the ball is coming in different,” Simms said. “I’ve been hearing that ever since I’ve been in high school. I’m pretty used to it now.”
The spin of the ball is just one thing that sets apart Simms from the other two veteran quarterbacks — both right-handers — on the roster, Vince Young and Kerry Collins. Then again, Young and Collins are not exactly mirror images of each other, either.
It’s possible the most common trait among the trio is their differences, which suggests any change made at that position might alter the fundamental way the offense operates.
“Each one has something a little different,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. “They push each other, which is great.”
It is abundantly clear that the Titans quarterbacks are not interchangeable. While they play the same position and study the same playbook, it’s unrealistic to think that one can step in and fill the role in a manner consistent with the others.
Think of them as a square peg, a round hole — and a triangle.
“I think we all love football, and we all get along real well,” Simms said. “Yeah, we are all different. Vince is flashy, really athletic and living the life. Kerry’s had his day in the sun, still working hard and still capable of playing at a high level. Then there’s me, who’s really trying to just keep trucking along in the NFL, find my role and maybe get a chance one day.”
A mismatched set
Young’s ability to run separates him from the others as profoundly as Simms’ throwing arm.
Collins, for example, has played 185 career games and has rushed for a total of 686 yards. Only once (1998) has he rushed for more than 100 yards in a season.
Young, 27, rambled for 552 yards as a rookie, and by the end of his second season he had as many career rushing touchdowns (10) as Collins.
“I’ve been in all different kinds of rooms with different kinds of quarterbacks,” Collins said. “Certainly Vince is unique in his ability to run. He’s the most gifted I’ve been around in his ability to create with his legs and make things happen from a scrambling standpoint.
“A drop-back pass is a drop-back pass, but there’s a couple things they can do with [Young] from the threat of the run.”
Collins, 37, is the classic drop-back passer. He stands in the pocket and — for better or worse — delivers the ball downfield. He has averaged more than a touchdown pass per game for the duration of his career, which began in 1995, but he also has thrown just five fewer interceptions (187) than touchdowns (192).
He had a stretch of six straight seasons, beginning in 2000, when he threw for more than 3,000 yards.
“There’s nothing Kerry hasn’t seen,” Heimerdinger said. “So you have his experience in the room. Then [Simms] pushes everybody.”
Simms, 29, has just one season’s worth of starting experience (16 games) in five years in the league. He has thrown more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (12) and is much closer to Collins in style. With Young, he shares an alma mater; both played at the University of Texas.
“All in all, I think teams try to get people in who can help them win, regardless of how they do it,” Collins said. “… The bottom line is, we have an offense, and we try to stay in the parameters of the offense.”
Working to fit in
At this time of the year, their differences are not much of an issue.
Offseason practice sessions are structured to make sure the three get the same amount of work on the same aspects of the scheme. The idea is that when the season starts, they’ll all have a clear sense of what to do regardless of what it’s called.
“Right now it’s pretty easy, because I’m making sure they each get the same pass plays,” Heimerdinger said. “I try to rotate it every day. … I’m trying to give them the concepts so I’m making sure by the end of June, when we get done, that they’ve had six or seven reps on each concept.”
As the one who calls the plays and sets the practice schedule, he simply has to remain aware of their differences, particularly Simms’ most notable one.
“You do a lot of things right-handed,” Heimerdinger said. “The other day I called a play that was right-handed and said, ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you in that situation.’ He said, ‘The whole world’s right-handed. I’ve adjusted.’
“If you had to do that in the game, you’d have to flip a bunch of stuff for Chris to give him a chance, to make sure he doesn’t have his back to the defense. The right-, left-handed thing, now that’s a problem during the season.”