ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chris Simms' comeback is nearly complete.
The backup quarterback for the Denver Broncos took the snaps with the starters again Thursday, making it increasingly likely he'll start against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in place of Kyle Orton, who hasn't practiced since spraining his left ankle last week at Washington.
After losing two-thirds of his blood and spending five nights in intensive care, Simms' comeback was a long and arduous one with more speed bumps and dead ends than he'd like to remember.
He missed the remainder of the 2006 season and all of 2007. After the Bucs granted him his release, he hooked up with the Tennessee Titans last year and threw just two passes while mopping up the regular-season finale.
This spring, he signed a two-year, $6 million free-agent deal to be the Broncos' backup. When Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago, Simms was ostensibly thrust into a battle with Orton for the starting job, but Simms was rusty and it was no contest.
Out of respect for Orton and the uncertainty surrounding who would start Sunday, Simms didn't want to talk much about himself this week. But in an interview during training camp he spoke with candor about his ordeal and said just being back on the field was sufficient reward.
"I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be able to play football again," he said. "So I'm just elated to be out here and happy to feel so good. Life's going in the right direction for me now."
Coach Josh McDaniels, while still holding out hope for Orton on Sunday, has no qualms about putting his complex offense in the hands of Simms. McDaniels said nobody at Dove Valley works harder than the seventh-year pro from the University of Texas who is the son of former New York Giants quarterback and 1987 Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms.
"I have a great deal of respect for what he's overcome now to come back to do this. And I can also see every day why he's overcome it," McDaniels said Thursday. "He works as hard or harder than anybody we have on our team. His attitude is phenomenal. He's got a great work ethic. He lives in the weight room. He runs after practice when nobody's looking -- when he doesn't think anybody's looking.
"And those are the kinds of things that make you believe in a kid like this, that went through an injury the way he did. And now he's brought himself back, he's gained all the weight back, he's strong, he's healthy, he's got a great attitude and approach as a backup quarterback," he said.
McDaniels suggested Simms appreciates the game on a different level following his brush with death.
"His outlook, I'm sure, was probably affected by that, and I think he enjoys every day that he's here and he takes advantage of it," McDaniels said. "That's why our team embraces him in his role and would embrace him in whatever role he would serve for us."
Simms said he was absolutely affected by his injury and rugged recovery.
"Every day was a struggle, just trying to get my body to feel right," he said. "It wasn't like you could tell a difference day by day. So it was very frustrating. I was not capable of making throws that I could probably make in sixth grade.
"That's pretty frustrating when you're an NFL quarterback and you're used to driving a Corvette and all of a sudden you're on a bicycle, as far as your arm strength goes. That was a very tough thing to go through," he said.
What kind of throws are we talking about?
"The simplest throws you could ever imagine," Simms said. "The 10-yard curl route was a struggle for me. Everything was a struggle for me because physically I was just a mess."
He said he was still struggling at the team's first minicamp last summer before finding his rhythm by training camp, where he promptly suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason.
Regaining his strength and becoming an NFL quarterback again must have been the easy part compared to the day he got hurt and the harrowing days that followed.
Simms tried to gut it out, at first thinking he had cracked a rib. But by game's end, he could hardly stand up straight, he was lightheaded and had no energy. The Buccaneers' medical staff talked him into going to the hospital, a suggestion that Simms has been told saved his life.
"When you've got tubes going through holes they're not supposed to be going through and things like that, that wasn't exactly the best week of my life," Simms said. "I have a huge scar going down the middle of my stomach. I couldn't stand up straight for two months, basically, because of the scar pulling me down.
"There was a lot of things I had to go through. But at the end of the day, it all got figured out and here I am feeling real good," he said.
And the carrot that kept him from just calling it a career?
"This right here," Simms said. "Just being out on the field and being part of a team again. It took a lot longer than I would have liked, but I finally got here."