INDIANAPOLIS – The first 10 games of the season have been a struggle for the Colts.
What has been a constant during the adversity has been practice, integrity and dedication by a group of players who will keep pushing, preparing and competing for the final six games of the regular season.
For one player, linebacker Ernie Sims, there is no other way.
"In all honesty what it's all about, if you love playing football, you're going to keep going out there and keep playing to win," said Sims about his affinity for the sport and for striving for success. "That's what it all boils down to. If we want to win, we're going to have to execute and play hard and try to get the first win."
Sims joined the Colts on August 2 at the start of training camp when he was one of three free agent veteran defensive players signed by the club. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris and defensive end Jamaal Anderson were signed, too, as Indianapolis inked players to help bolster its defense. Sims joined the Colts from Philadelphia, while Harris (Chicago) and Anderson (Atlanta) came from other organizations. Sims and Anderson made the team and have appeared in the majority of the games to date.
Sims is a native of Tallahassee, Florida. His love for the sport grew as he did, and success was a companion. Sims helped lead his high school, North Florida Christian, to four consecutive state championships from 1998-2001. A major scouting service identified him as the number one prospect in a state that cultivates an enormous amount of high school talent. Sims then played at Florida State, starting 24 of 38 career games and totaling 200 tackles and seven sacks during his career. Upon exiting the Seminoles program, he was selected by Detroit as the ninth overall player in the 2006 draft.
Sims opened 56 of 59 games at the right outside linebacker position with the Lions from 2006-09. He appeared in every game during his first three years, then started eight of 11 games in 2009. Sims was traded to Philadelphia, where he started 15 games at the left outside position last season.
After encountering only success on the prep and collegiate levels, Sims saw some seasons of struggle in Detroit before being a part of a 10-6 Eagles team that won the NFC East in 2010.
Sims hit training camp at Anderson University this summer with an attitude of contribution for his third team. After making an impact in a scrimmage to close the first week of camp, fate intervened. Sims suffered an attack of appendicitis and missed some action.
Upon returning for the opener at Houston, he incurred a knee injury on special teams that cost him three games. Since returning in week five, Sims has amassed 20 tackles, 10 solo, along with one special teams stop.
Sims has seen other teammates on defense succumb to injury, including team captain and middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in at Houston.
Sims keeps a positive outlook and an eye for contribution as the regular season enters the last six games.
"It's a lot of football ahead," said Sims. "Six games left (is a lot to play). A lot of people can prove themselves. There are a lot of things to prove. We can still finish this season strong. Even though we're 0-10, Detroit did it last year. They won their last four games."
Sims has seen a tougher side of football that can happen when a season's results do not meet aspirations that were held in camp. This is his first year with new teammates, and he recognizes what he sees in terms of character with his Colts counterparts.
"I think it's real big that we're sticking together," said Sims. "We're not pointing fingers. We're not calling each other out, saying, 'It's this person's fault or that person's fault.' We're sticking together as a team. That's very crucial. There are people on the outside who want to divide our team. That's the great thing about what we're going through right now. Through all this adversity, we're sticking together."
The perspective of a player in his sixth year in the league reveals how much the game can mean and how important each Sunday is in a career.
"We are professionals," said Sims. "A lot of guys on this team are approaching it as professionals. Even though we're losing right now, we're trying to be professionals about it by going about our daily jobs, trying to do the best we can – studying, preparing ourselves and practicing hard. When it comes game time, we are trying to execute and win."
Asked early in the week before preparations started in earnest for Carolina about facing quarterback Cam Newton, who has rushed for 411 yards and nine touchdowns while passing for almost 3,000 yards, Sims said the approach could be varied. He knows the Carolina offense is bigger than that and will have multiple challenges.
"It really just depends on what type of defense that we're playing," said Sims. "If we've got extra guys spying on him, then it will help out a little bit. It just really depends on down and distance and what type of defense we're playing. That will really tell you how we're going to be able to contain him."
The Carolina game is the first of the six remaining regular season contests for Indianapolis. Playing in each of the remaining games would give Sims 13 outings this season, a total that approximates what he has been able to accomplish in four of his five previous seasons.
Like a pro, Sims is focused on carrying an assignment out to its end.
"It's not how you start. It's how you finish," said Sims. "Our season hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go, but we can end it on a good note."