Cool confidence is Simms' defining trait

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Instead of the swagger that some might anticipate, there is an undeniable calm about quarterback Chris Simms as he embarks on his fourth training camp, albeit his first as the unquestioned, unchallenged and unimpeachable starter for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

It's almost as if the old Frank Costanza mantra from "Seinfeld" --"Serenity now!"-- keeps repeating itself in the tow-headed cranium of the Bucs' burgeoning young star. Except in the case of Simms, who last season replaced an injured Brian Griese and guided Tampa Bay to a championship in what again figures to be an extremely competitive NFC South in 2006, it should be more like "Serenity finally."

Simms has a new baby daughter, Sienna Rose, born on Father's Day. A new, $2.1 million contract. And, with unrestricted free agency just seven months away, the promise of even bigger money to come, either in the form of Bucs' bucks or a fat payday from some other team looking to sign a young, franchise-level player. He's got respect in the community, where his charitable endeavors are considerable, and in his own locker room, where even longtime, established leaders such as weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks acknowledge his importance.

Oh, yeah, Simms has his own respect now, too.

"The biggest thing is there's no self-doubt anymore," Simms said earlier this week, stuffing his angular frame into an overmatched folding chair following another steamy practice here. "It's important, sure, that my teammates know what I can do. But it's more important that I know it. When you're sitting around and not playing, I mean, you know that you're going to get an opportunity at some point. But you keep asking yourself, 'OK, when?' And then it becomes kind of, 'When [the chance] does come, how will I respond?' No matter how confident you claim to be, you've got to eventually answer that question for yourself by going out and doing it when the opportunity is there."

When opportunity knocked for Simms last season, he barely heard it, and certainly didn't see it. His back was turned to the action when then-starter Griese suffered a season-ending knee injury in an Oct. 16 game against Miami, and it was Brooks who had to bark at Simms to grab his helmet. When Griese shredded his anterior cruciate ligament, it tore yet another page from the book of starters that the Bucs have used and discarded over the years and essentially began the Chris Simms Era.

The chapter, if all goes according to plan and if Simms is as good as people here believe him to be, could grow into a tome.

Said head coach Jon Gruden, whose withering on-field critiques have reduced some other quarterbacks to shrinking violets, but whose incredibly unfiltered remarks don't seem to dent Simms at all: "I'm going to have to screw things up pretty good for that kid not to turn out really special."

Gruden always has an agenda and, no matter the line of interrogation, a calculating and well-practiced knack for answering the question he wanted you to ask, not necessarily the one you did. And so there are times when he goes off on one of his rehearsed tangents when you kind of turn off your mental hearing aid and just wait for his lips to stop moving. But when Gruden speaks about Simms, a player he didn't exactly embrace earlier in the young quarterback's career, you listen.

Because most of what Gruden says is echoed by Tampa Bay players. It's important that the quarterback has the respect from his teammates as from his coaches.

"I think everybody looks at Chris so much different now than a year ago," allowed 11-year veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway. "He's our guy. He's the guy. Because of who he is, his last name and all, people have scrutinized him and overanalyzed him and put him under every microscope imaginable. And he's come through it all pretty good, hasn't he?"

Who Simms is, of course, is the son of former New York Giants star quarterback Phil Simms, a terrific player whose name is frequently raised in Hall of Fame debates, and who is now a CBS football analyst. If the surname has brought the pressures inherent to celebrity created by bloodlines, Chris Simms has never tried to dodge the attention, and has sometimes turned it into a motivational technique.

"Especially when I was playing basketball, which was really my best sport for a long time, I'd hear what the people were saying," Simms said. "You know, all the, 'That's Phil Simms' son.' To me, it was like, 'Well, if you're going to keep watching me, I'm going to try to put on a show for you.' I tried to turn the tables a little bit, yeah. I made it work for me. The name, what he did, it means something special to me. I could go my whole life being comfortable with the label of Phil Simms' kid. That's fine."

One of the most ardently recruited players in the country when he was in high school, and the quarterback on the 1998 Parade magazine All-American team, Simms couldn't make a college visit without it being front-page news. He eventually settled on the University of Texas, where he broke a lot of records and broke a lot of Longhorns hearts, it seemed, with a reputation, fair or not, of not winning big games. Despite having one of the strongest arms in the 2003 draft class, he slipped to the third round.

It is a slight, Simms allowed, that still rankles him a little. But the wound has pretty much scabbed over now, and no one has ever heard Simms vow, as some players do, to exact revenge on the franchises that ignored him for nearly three full rounds.

There is, after all, far too much in front of Simms for him to be transfixed on the rearview mirror.

After replacing Griese in the lineup, Simms won six of 10 starts. He completed 191 of 313 pass attempts for 2,035 yards with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and an efficiency rating of 81.4. It was a much better representation of his skills than when he started two games in 2004, when the staff tried to force him into the starting role, and he wasn't quite ready.

There are no doubts now about his readiness or his worthiness.

Possessed not only of great long-arm strength and deep-ball touch, and there is a key difference between the two, Simms clearly has the physical makeup to become a Pro Bowl quarterback. And soon. He is a bright player, one whose youth spent hanging around locker rooms provided him an early understanding of the league. Simms studies hard, works hard, is hard on himself, and has the kind of veneer it takes to deal with Gruden, whose harangues can strip paint from walls.

There aren't a lot of thoughts that rattle around in Gruden's head that don't eventually make their way through his lips. Usually uncensored. By now, Simms has heard most of them, dealt with them, and battled back when necessary.

"Yeah, he'll stand in and take it," wide receiver Michael Clayton said. "Tough in the pocket. Tough when the coaches are maybe on him a little bit. He's a lot tougher than he looks. I mean, here's this big, blond guy, not the loudest guy around, for sure, but he commands respect. He's never going to call you out in public or in front of your teammates. But when he makes a point, Chris does a good job getting it across."

On a team that doesn't lack for veteran leaders -- with guys like Brooks and fellow linebacker Shelton Quarles, Galloway at wide receiver, defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber, there is an abundance of established veterans -- Simms is hardly a rah-rah guy. Nor is he particularly emotional. In fact, Simms said, he got more emotional watching his father play than he has ever gotten over his own situation.

If there is an emotional side to Chris Simms' game, you won't find it on the sleeve of his uniform jersey, that's for sure. He plays with a kind of dispassion, a positive detachment that allows him to maintain a degree of balance. There is, teammates insist, more than just Simms' blood coursing through his veins.

"He's an ice-water guy," Clayton said. "You don't faze him a lot. Chris is a pretty cool operator."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.