BY Art Thiel 06:54PM 12/12/2018

Thiel: ‘Dark days’ gone for Seahawks’ Simmons

After starting twice in four years at USC, RG Jordan Simmons has started twice for the Seahawks, and they had their two highest rushing totals in 2018.

Jordan Simmons had two starts in four years at USC. / Seahawks.com

With three regular-season games remaining, it’s remarkable that the Seahawks have only to beat the 49ers (3-10) Sunday to clinch a playoff berth with time to spare in the regular season. After all the changes in the off-season, the Seahawks figured to be minnows spooked by even the shadows of NFC sharks.

Almost always in these NFL stories of the unexpected are a few obscure players delivering goods beyond their apparent means. The Seahawks’ most extreme current example is Jordan Simmons, the starter Monday night at right guard, from where he helped the offense gain 214 rushing yards against Minnesota to counter the exceptionally meager 72 yards passing from Russell Wilson.

The rushing total was noteworthy because the previous time Simmons started, at Los Angeles Nov. 11 against the Rams, the Seahawks ran for 274 yards. Those ground totals were the best two of the season for Seattle, the league’s No. 1 rushing outfit, and came against two of the best run-defenders

The unit is hovering near the peak of ground-game achievement: The often-pilloried offensive line is winning the play-by-play battle even when the defense knows what’s coming.

“We know that they know,” said C Justin Britt. “Question is: ‘Are you going to stop us?'”

That answer increasingly has been Oh. Hell. No.

Simmons is not mostly responsible for the production; not close. But the fact that he has slipped in free of disaster is fairly astonishing because his two starts — in place of injured dreadnought D.J. Fluker —  equaled the number of starts he had in four years at USC.

A heralded recruit out of Crespi High in Encino, CA., Simmons redshirted his first year with the Trojans, then had knee surgery. In 2013, he hurt the knee again, missing the final six games of the season plus the first two in 2014. One week later, another knee injury, wiping out the the rest of 2014.

Then for 2015, the Trojans shifted him to defensive tackle. A mistake.

Simmons almost quit football.

“It wasn’t working out for me,” he said Wednesday before practice. “I was out of it mentally. I didn’t want to continue football. I wanted to quit. There were definitely days like, ‘I’m over this. Did my best.'”

Simmons stuck with it, playing 13 games in 2016, starting twice. He was, after all, still 6-foot-4, 340 pounds and surprisingly agile. The Oakland Raiders saw enough to sign him to their practice squad as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t play in 2017.

On cut-down day in 2018, the Raiders, masters of the misjudgment, cut him. But before Simmons fell again into despair or another team, the Seahawks quietly added him to the 53-man roster Sept. 2.

“I was pretty happy about that,” he said. “I knew it was a good team. Then there’s Pete Carroll, USC, obviously. I’m finally happy to be with him. It would have been great if he was my coach at USC. But somehow, some way . . .”

Carroll wasn’t planning to put Simmons on the practice squad, because he wanted a road grader for the re-emphasized ground game in case Fluker’s long history of small injuries compromised his 350-pound body.

“Coming out of USC, it was hard to evaluate him highly,” Carroll said. “Playing for the Raiders, he looked like was capable. He was 338 and moved better than a  guy that size should move.

“We had hopes when we picked him up. When we saw him work, he elevated our expectations. It’s been quite a journey for him.”

The apex moment came against the Rams — his first career start on his college home field of the Los Angeles Coliseum, with family in attendance.

“That was an emotional game for me, after what I went through in college,” he said. “I had dark days. Never thought I’d see this opportunity.”

Of Simmons’ play against the Rams and Vikings, Carroll said, “Those are two terrific fronts with really good players, and he held his own. We’re playing him because we think he’s going to do a good job and he’s been able to handle it.

“He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s certainly shown that he can hang in there. It’s really a positive expression he’s made for our team and for his future with us.”

Finding overlooked talent is critical for a team such as Seattle, which has been slammed up against the salary cap after years of paying expensive veterans. Carroll said scouts are assigned to know every player on each team’s roster, steadily updating evaluations, and on cut-down day, “the internal wire” at team headquarters hums.

“It’s a really big science for us,” he said. “(General manager John Schneider) is great at it, He has good sense for what’s happening with other teams. Sometimes you get surprised, someone is out there you think wouldn’t be.

“John will call and say, ‘We got a guy you might want to take a look at.’ If we can keep the energy going for the guy, then we do it.”

Simmons still has much to learn. As with Fluker, he’s not a great pass blocker. It’s part of the reason the Seahawks need to cut down on pass attempts. According to Pro Football Focus, of the Seahawks’ 24 pass plays Sunday, Seattle gave up 10 pressures, the fourth-worst pass blocking efficiency in the NFL this week.

But having a fresh power-run scheme under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new line coach Mike Solari makes things easier for a newbie to pick up.

“I think it’s everything,” Britt said. “We’ve been working for this kind of moment since the spring. We tweak some plays, then whenever we get the week’s game plan, it’s kind of like a review.

“Where Solari, Schotty and the other coaches excel is in a game plan that has us prepared. At game time, no second thoughts.”

It appears to have illuminated for Simmons a surprisingly short path from dark days to Monday night’s bright lights.

Bad times have found a favorite NFL player: LB Mychal Kendricks

Upon his return from an eight-game suspension by the NFL, LB Mychal Kendricks was amped to start against Minnesota Sunday. But after 44 snaps and five tackles, his season is over. He was put on the injured reserve list Monday, ahead of surgery to repair a tibia broken late in the first half.

Somehow he played through the second half of the 21-7 triumph, his fourth game with the Seahawks as he navigated the consequences of his admission to felony insider trading in 2015.

“He just got hit on the outside of his knee and it’s got him,” Carroll said. “In unbelievable fashion, he finished the game. He fought through it the whole time. It’s just been such a difficult season for him. My heart goes out to him. He wants to be part of this thing so badly. He doesn’t get to this time around.”

In the continuing injury absence of veteran LB K.J. Wright (knee), rookie Austin Calitro is likely to start Sunday in Santa Clara against the 49ers (1:05 p.m., FOX).

 


YourThoughts

  • Husky73

    I used to say that George Karl could find five guys on an outdoor court, work with them for several days and then field a competitive team. Regardless of his ego (maybe because of it) and his eccentricities, Karl could coach. I feel the same way about Pete Carroll. Give him the overlooked and under-appreciated, and he’ll find a way to mold them into achieving individuals and a unit that can hold their own and beyond.

    • Ron
      • Ron

        To be called Seattle Suns. (or “Seattle sans Suns” for the winter months.)

        • Husky73

          Sun Dodgers

          • art thiel

            Sunnics.

        • jafabian

          Sun Kings

      • art thiel

        Don’t be putting down your season-ticket deposit yet. It is civic-extortion season in the NBA. Year round.

        • Ron

          No worries, I don’t expect to be around when the NBA returns to town, or the Mariners win the World Series, or Individual- 1 gets out of prison.

          • Theyfinallyfiredcable

            LOL , beautiful comment Ron . I agree totally , about all 3 . Let’s pray that last prediction happens soon . I can’t believe it’s been allowed to go on this long .

    • art thiel

      Good observation about both guys. They do know well human behaviors, although their tactics are different. There are as many ways to win as there are coaches.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Ol’ Chuck Knox would love this offense and running game. I can’t quote him verbatim, but I do remember him saying that if you execute the play correctly, it doesn’t matter if the other team knows what you’re going to do. I personally have always enjoyed a killer rushing game over a pass dominant offense. Getting first downs by rushing, and the way they’re doing it, is just peaches, man! GO HAWKS!

    • art thiel

      Ground Chuck, as my pal Steve Kelley call the offense.

    • John M

      Yes DJ, but I can’t forgive Knox for the ’84 season, after the Hawks racked up 12 wins with Dave’s arm in ’83 when Curt went down in either the first or second game. And then Curt came back in ’84 and I thought, OK, he saw the team could make it with a more balanced offense, and he went right back to having Curt put his head down and try to find a crease between the tackles. Same simplistic formations down after down until you wanted to scream. If even I could see where the play was going, the D players saw it even better. And he ruined it, the mindset of his team, and never got them to 12 wins again. If you can assemble the personnel, running the ball is great, but Shotty seems willing to change up if the run isn’t working so well, and Pete seems to like it as long as they’re winning. They’re maintaining almost exactly 50% run/pass and the offense looks best when they do that . . .

  • 1coolguy

    The only thing about Solari that is a bummer is wondering how well the Hawks would have done over the years if they had him instead of Cable. It falls into the “what could have been” category. In the last few years I was outspoken about PC dropping Cable and Bevell and in retrospect, Pete was just too loyal and it took a disaster like 2017 for him to call a spade a spade.
    Simmons is a great story – ex-USC, didn’t play much, UFA, cut by the Raiders (of all teams), and then starts in our 2 highest rushing games of the year. Could be the Hawks all-time “rags to riches” story and I hope the best for the guy.

    • Theyfinallyfiredcable

      Bingo . Well said 1cool ..

      ” A fresh power-run scheme under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new line coach Mike Solari ” . Notice Mr. Bevel remains unemployed . I understand there’s an opening for OC in Minnesota these days , perhaps the Vikings will give him a second shot ! We could also talk about Cable’s success down in Raider land , but it’d be a short conversation .

    • art thiel

      It’s fair to remember that Carroll made two SBs with Cable and Bevell. They didn’t suddenly become stupid. They, and Carroll, all thought they could replace most of what Lynch brought; they were wrong. They also couldn’t have nearly the same team after paying Wilson.

  • John M

    Very entertaining article, Art. And then “Sunnics.” Simmons is a classic Hawks story, like Chris Carter, one of the 7’s. But the pass blocking must improve, because when it does Wilson makes some amazing throws which will allow us to whip the Rams in the playoffs . . .

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Has picked up, but it will be hard to detect this weekend.

  • Ron

    Somebody forgot to knock on wood when they said “‘Dark days’ gone for Seahawks’ Simmons”. Season ending injury for him and placed on IR.