NFL Sundays took a toll on Redskins wide receiver Cam Sims last season. Physically, Sims suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening kickoff of the regular season opener that landed him on Injured Reserve. But that wasn't the main cause of his frustration and disappointment. In a little over a month, the undrafted free agent out of Alabama had returned to full strength.
It was the mental aspect that proved much more difficult, especially after the Redskins activated wide receiver Trey Quinn and running back Byron Marshall off IR in November, effectively ending Sims' rookie campaign. By rule, NFL teams are only allowed to activate two players off IR per season. So while Sims was healthy enough to play, he would have to wait until next fall.
"Every Sunday I would cry because I wasn't out there playing," said Sims, who estimates he watched three or four games throughout the year. "I just had to get up out of that. After I stopped crying, I was just like, 'Man, let's go. I can't do that. Let's go. Let's go do something. Let's go work.'"
Since early January, Sims has spent nearly every weekday at the Inova Sports and Performance Center at Redskins Park preparing for the upcoming season. He's out to prove that his productive preseason, during which he led the team in receiving yards, was not an aberration but rather a sign of what's to come.
"To pick up where I left off," Sims said about his expectations for this season. "Just to keep going and going. I know I had a great year last year before I got hurt, so I just want to pick up and do better than I did last year."
Sims, a 6-foot-5 outside target who signed with the Redskins on May 2, quickly earned the recognition and respect of his new coaches. He had a "tremendous" training camp according to Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Williams and served as the Redskins' top receiving option during the preseason, catching five passes for 131 yards. He nearly added a touchdown, too, with his reception between two Jets defenders on Aug. 16, but the play was called back because of a penalty.
When asked about the preseason wide receiver battle, Williams said, "I think what has happened is the free agent kid from Alabama threw a hand grenade in this thing."
A four-star recruit out of Ouachita Parish High School in Louisiana, Sims rarely contributed during his time at Alabama. He caught just 41 passes for 467 yards and two touchdowns over four seasons, playing mostly in the shadow of current Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley and a dominant Crimson Tide rushing attack.
Still, the Redskins saw enough potential in Sims to sign him as a free agent, and right up until the start of the season he did not disappoint.
"Well he's got the measurables," Gruden said of Sims in mid-August. "He's big, he can run, you wonder why he didn't get drafted, a guy like that. Seem him workout, seen him out there, he's an impressive guy."
Sims ended up making the 53-man roster and was on the field during the opening kickoff of the Redskins' season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 9. But that was the extent of his NFL debut. One moment he was blocking and the next he felt somebody land on his left ankle. He had to be carted off the field with what was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, landing him on IR.
Mentally the setback shook Sims, but that sorrow quickly turned to motivation once he understood the recovery process. In about five weeks' time he was back to full health. Now he waited to see if the Redskins organization would activate him off IR after eight weeks.
Instead, the organization activated Marshall to bolster its running back depth and Quinn to provide inside help at wide receiver.
"I’m going to just take a step back, take a couple of deep breaths," Sims said of his reaction to the news. "I just used it as like a redshirt [year] to make sure I'm all the way right for next season."
Keeping Sims positive during his injury and subsequent time on Injured Reserve was "a lot of prayer" and the support system of his parents and his daughter Kameryn, all of whom he said he talks to almost every day. They make sure he spent most mornings and early afternoons at the team facility, working on his speed, strength and change of direction. They keep him motivated to improve his route running, which he's been working on with fellow wide receivers Maurice Harris and Robert Davis.
Nowadays. Sims is more focused than ever because he knows what it takes to become an NFL contributor. You don't have to be a collegiate standout or a high draft pick.
Consistent production is the key, and Sims has already shown glimpses of that.
"Never take anything for granted because anything can happen," Sims said. "That's the main thing right there. Never take anything for granted and just keep grinding every single day."