RENTON -- Jordan Simmons will be making his third career start for the Seahawks this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
Simmons will take the spot of D.J. Fluker again at right guard as Fluker will be a second straight game due to a hamstring strain suffered against the 49ers two weeks ago. Simmons has been the replacement for Fluker in each of the two games he's previously missed due to injury this year.
All Seattle has managed to do in those two games is produce their two best rushing games of the year against the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks rushed for 273 yards against the Rams in November and 214 yards last Monday against the Vikings. The 273 yards against L.A. was the eighth best rushing performance in franchise history and it came in Simmons' first start.
"I mean those are two terrific fronts with really good players and highlighted players and he’s held his own," head coach Pete Carroll said this week.
Given the fact that Simmons considered quitting football altogether just three years ago during an injury-filled college career at USC, it's remarkable what he's been able to achieve since joining the Seahawks in September.
Simmons started just two games during his entire college career at USC, both coming during his senior season. He dealt with knee injuries in each of his first four years in school. He appeared in just one game in each his freshman and junior seasons and just seven as a sophomore. When Steve Sarkisian asked Simmons to play defensive tackle during camp prior to his junior season, Simmons said he nearly quit the game.
"It just wasn’t working out for me," Simmons said. "I was just out of it mentally, didn’t want to really do it. I didn’t want to continue with football. I was thinking about quitting football that year so there were definitely days of like ‘I’m over this. I did my best. It is what it is.’"
Simmons fought through those frustrations and worked through the myriad knee injuries he dealt with during his college career. He petitioned the NCAA to get a sixth season of eligibility at USC only to be turned down over a handful of snaps on field goals units in a Holiday Bowl appearance against Wisconsin.
"I owed it to myself to see how far I could go," Simmons said as to why he didn't walk away from the game. "If that was just making it to a team and getting to a camp tryout, I’d be happy with that. I just kept my faith and took it day-by-day and that’s about it."
Because of the injury history and lack of tape to show his playing ability, Simmons was not much of a candidate to get drafted. However, he had a handful of free agents offers following the 2017 NFL Draft and elected to sign with the Oakland Raiders. Simmons spent all of last season on the Raiders practice squad.
Seattle's pro scouting department became intrigued by Simmons watching his tape during this preseason particularly his game against the Seahawks in late August.
"When we caught him playing for the Raiders during the preseason, he just looked like he was capable," Carroll said. "We knew that he was 338 pounds and he moved well – maybe better than we thought a guy that big should move. He had good flexibility to him. We just saw a lot of real positive things."
When the Raiders released him at the end of training camp, the Seahawks pounced. They claimed Simmons off waivers and released former third-round pick Rees Odhiambo to clear a roster spot.
"They really liked what he did in the preseason games," offensive line coach Mike Solari said. "We looked at him and they really liked his functional strength, his ability to move the line of scrimmage, which is an important part of our offense."
Despite his relative lake of game-time, Solari said there was enough there to show the things they needed to see.
"It was definitely his evaluation and his tape and what he did on the game film and the way he was able to move and his athleticism to really sustain blocks and so forth. We’re excited about him," Solari said.
It was Simmons that got the nod over last year's second-round pick Ethan Pocic when the Seahawks needed a replacement in Los Angeles. Seattle wanted a player with a similar physical makeup as Fluker to try and block Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
It was a huge moment for Simmons, and not just because he'd have to try and block the league's best interior defensive lineman in Donald.
"The Rams game was an emotional game for me personally cause of what I’ve been through just only in college," Simmons said. "I had dark days in college and never thought I’d see the opportunity to start a game, especially being at USC, where I played at. So it was good."
The way Simmons played against the Rams left the Seahawks excited. Sure, Donald and Suh had their moments against him. It was his first start after all. But the totality of his performance gave them a ton of confidence should they need to call upon him again.
"We didn’t realize until we got him here that he’d really fit in and he fit in physically," Carroll said. "He could do the things that he wanted to do, he could play big like we want to play.”
When Fluker pulled his hamstring two weeks ago against the 49ers, the Seahawks called upon Simmons again to get the start. Another 200-yard rushing game soon followed.
"Those are two terrific fronts with really good players and highlighted players and he’s held his own," Carroll said of Simmons' play against the Rams and Vikings.
"He was blocking Suh and Donald a couple of weeks ago and here he’s going against our guy from last year (in Sheldon Richardson). It’s really a positive expression he’s made for our team and for his future with us."
Simmons' emergence could affect Seattle's plans for their offensive line this offseason. Both Fluker and J.R. Sweezy will be free agents after this season. Fluker has battled a knee injury throughout the season and it has kept him off the field during training camp, offseason workouts and in-season practices.
Of course, Simmons has a history of knee injuries as well that could lead Seattle to hedge against just penciling him in as a starter heading into the offseason.
The Seahawks are thrilled to have depth on their offensive line for the first time in quite a while. George Fant can play either tackle spot and as a jumbo tight end. Ethan Pocic can line up at any spot on the offensive line. Simmons has shown he can be a capable spot-starter at the very least and Joey Hunt is a cerebral, if undersized, backup center.
That doesn't mean Simmons won't have his growing pains along the way. But the early returns have the Seahawks extremely happy with their find.
“He’s still young, he’s a young guy playing," Carroll said. "He still gets nervous and stuff, just like a young guy would be, but in time he’s going to really settle in and be a really competitive guy for us."
Photo Credit: LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Aaron Donald #99 of the Los Angeles Rams and Jordan Simmons #66 of the Seattle Seahawks push and shove at the end of the game after a 36-31 Rams win at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)