FedExField and the other NFL stadiums were mostly empty last season, but you didn't need to see people in the stands to know that Washington fans were cheering on Cam Sims for every play he made.
Sims has had his pocket of supporters for some time now, and they haven't been quiet about imploring Washington to give him a chance. After all, he only had three targets in his entire career prior to Ron Rivera taking the reins. That's when Sims and his enthusiasts were rewarded at last with him hauling in 477 yards and a touchdown.
His first-career score and numerous critical catches were a testament to all the work he had put in during the previous two seasons. His effort and flexibility didn't just result in numbers on the field, though. Those attributes became a pivotal part of the receiver room as a whole.
"We relied on Cam heavily last year," said receivers coach Drew Terrell. "He was kind of the glue of our group."
Terrell saw Sims, who had appeared in just three games prior to 2020, grow and change his mindset from the start of last year's training camp to the end of the season. He practices his butt off, Terrell said, and that got noticed by Scott Turner and the rest of the offensive coaches. It likely played a role in them giving Sims more opportunities against the Giants when injuries left the position thin. His one and only target in that game resulted in a 22-yard score.
"It's a testament to this league and kind of what it's about," Turner said. "You don't know when your opportunity is going to come in this league, but when you do you make the most of it. The reward for doing a good job is an opportunity to do it again. Cam's made the most of that."
In fact, taking the most of what was given to him is where Sims feels he grew the most.
"Of course I missed some," Sims said, "but for the most part I took full advantage of it."
Sims was the ideal model for what Washington wants out of its receivers. Need someone to make a play in a game-defining moment? Sims had several of those, including a one-handed grab against the Steelers on a 3rd-and-4 to set up a field goal. How about a block on the outside? He could use his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to handle that. And wherever he was needed on the field, Sims would do it without question.
"He's one of the smartest guys in the room, in terms of being able to move him around," Terrell said. "He's doing a really good job."
Just take a look at his numbers last year, and it becomes clear just how much Washington relied on Sims. He was second among receivers with 48 targets, almost all of which came after Week 6. Maybe Sims' work ethic stems from him being on and off the practice squad for most of his career, but he called the experience "a nice journey," regardless of where that trait comes from. And now he wants to continue that progress this upcoming season.
"Just go even harder," Sims said of his goals during his exit interview. "Harder than I went last year. ...I know I gotta go two times harder to get where I want to be."
It's good that Sims has that mentality considering how talented the receiver group has become over the offseason with free agent pickups like Curtis Samuel and draft picks like Dyami Brown. It's going to be a crowded bunch of players, all of whom will be looking to make plays,
That isn't too different from what Sims has experienced over the past three seasons, and he was able to grow despite that. That's partly what fuels Terrell's excitement for what Sims can do this season, and the four-year pro already knows that putting in effort does pay off.
"It just shows you all the good that comes from hard work," Sims said. "It's telling me to just keep going."