Steelers Notebook: Simmons to play new position vs. Eagles Friday
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kendall Simmons has played exclusively at guard since he was drafted out of Auburn in 2002. Before his junior season in college, he was switched to tackle and performed so well that he was named all-Southeastern Conference.
In his 10-plus years as an offensive lineman, Simmons has seen it all and from nearly every perspective. The only place Simmons has not viewed his profession from is center.
When the Steelers travel to Philadelphia Friday for their third preseason game, Simmons will get that unique perspective for the first time in his entire football career.
"We got him some reps last week and a couple the week before," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "He'll get a lot more in practice this week. We're going to get him in the game some at the center spot and see what he can do there. It leaves us another option. It's a plus. It gives you some different options on game day. Who's up and who's down? In case of an emergency, you have another center. We'll see how it goes."
Simmons, a five-year veteran and the starting right guard, will play at center against the Eagles because of uncertainty about backup center Chukky Okobi, who had neck surgery two weeks ago. Even though Okobi is expected to practice next week, the Steelers want to see Simmons in action there because he could give them game-day roster flexibility.
One former Steelers lineman knows the pressures of being a center. Tunch Ilkin, an all-Pro tackle in the 1980s, was drafted out of Indiana State as a center. He said Simmons has the athleticism and makeup to play center, but noted that it takes a lot of practice to get it down pat.
"Right after the draft in Kendall's rookie year, I was down at the Tennessee Titans' facility," Ilkin recalled. "[Tennessee line coach] Mike Munchak is an old friend of mine. He was lamenting the fact that the Steelers drafted Kendall because he really wanted him.
"He said, 'I was going to draft him and put him at center. I think he'd make a great center.' When you look at Kendall Simmons, he's a great athlete. He's very compact with short arms. He's got that prototypical, squat-monster center build. The fact that he's a great athlete ... let's face it, to play center you have to be a great athlete. You have to be able to snap the ball and move right or left, backward or forward with the ball in your hands.
"If I was Kendall I would get as many snaps as I can this week. It's not an easy adjustment by any means. It's one thing to have a 300-pound mutation lined up across from you at guard. You just come flying off the ball. It's another when you have one lined up across from you at center. You have to snap the ball, then get your hands on the guy. The key is being able to snap the ball and move toward your target at the same time. If you snap and then move, you're going to get smashed every time."