TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden insists his differences with disgruntled reserve quarterback Chris Simms are not personal.
Simms, a one-time starter who hasn't played in a regular season game since rupturing his spleen in September 2006, was a no-show Tuesday for the start of the team's mandatory three-day minicamp.
Quarterback friendly. That's the label that Jon Gruden has proudly worn throughout his NFL coaching career.
"I almost live with them," he said. "I live my life through them."
The sixth-year pro has described his soured relationship with Gruden as beyond repair and would like to be released so he can try to revive his career with another club.
"He said what he said. I don't agree with all the things he said," Gruden said about Simms' remarks that he felt mistreated and could no longer play for the coach. "I can only comment on the guys who are here working. His situation will take care of itself."
Simms missed the last 13 games of 2006 after taking several hard hits and having his spleen removed hours after a loss to the Carolina Panthers. He tried to come back last year, but had difficulty regaining his form before entering the season as the fourth-string quarterback.
As injuries at other positions mounted, the Bucs eventually put Simms on injured reserve, saying he had not fully recovered from his splenectomy.
The 27-year-old has not participated in Tampa Bay's offseason workout program this summer and spoke out about status last week.
"I'm not surprised by much. I'm disappointed in some ways," Gruden said. "I like the guy, OK? I want him to have a chance to compete. That's all I'm going to say. I wish him well. I hope this works out for him. Again, I can only comment on the guys that are here. We can only play one quarterback. That's what we're focused on."
When Gruden drafted rookie Josh Johnson in the fifth round of this year's draft, Simms was further convinced that he no longer fit into Tampa Bay's plans.
"It's not personal for me. It's not at all," Gruden said. "I like the guy a lot. I spent a lot of time with him, and I wish him well."
While Simms was a no-show for the first of four practices scheduled for minicamp, running back Earnest Graham did work out with teammates for the first time this summer. He's been absent from voluntary Organized Team Activities while seeking a new contract after rushing for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
"I wasn't trying to accomplish anything by not being at the OTAs," Graham said. "Of course, we have a contract that needs to be done. I have faith that it's going to get done. We'll see. We had practice today. It was mandatory to be here, and I'm here."
Graham contributed mostly on special teams for the first three years of his career, but started 10 games in 2007 after injuries to Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Michael Pittman left Tampa Bay without an experienced running back.
He said he's optimistic he'll have a new deal by the time the Bucs report for training camp on July 25.
"It needs to get done. I'm not really stressing a time frame or anything like that. It just needs to get done. They know that, I know that," Graham said.
Meanwhile, Gruden reiterated he's not bothered by Graham's absence from OTAs.
"He's always in shape. He's going to be ready to go. These matters will find a way to work themselves out," the coach said.
" We've never had 100 percent attendance in these. There have been guys miss voluntary workouts before. But Earnest is in great shape. ... I'm not concerned."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press