Even though he turns only 29 in less than two weeks, linebacker Brian Simmons has played in the most Bengals games on defense with 79. With Friday's opening of the weekend mandatory minicamp, Simmons sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com to talk about life as a Bengal then and now.
GH: It's nice to talk to the dean of the defense. Does that make you feel old?**
BS: No, it just makes me feel that things have changed.
GH: If anyone knows about the changes that have taken place here, its you.
BS: As far as on the team, me, Willie and Richie. From the first day I walked in here, there are only two guys who were here. A lot of these guys, I'm looking around the locker room and a lot of these guys, I don't know at all.
GH: Does that feel strange? Look at the linebackers they just drafted, Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson.
BS: They were born in '80 (Miller) and '81 (Johnson). It does feel strange. Once you start looking down that roster and you see guys born in '80, '81, that's when it starts to get your attention. That's kind of crazy.
GH: What are the biggest changes?
BS: There is more of a focus. Guys are more focused about what we're trying to do and the things we need to do to get there.
GH: The one knock you always heard was that the Bengals had the talent, but they could never put it together. They didn't have the conditioning, the discipline, the mental toughness.
BS: I don't think this team was ever as focused as it needed to be and everybody has to take responsibility on that. From players, coaches, whatever.
GH: The changes obviously stem from Marvin's hiring. Is it just his attitude, his program?
BS: I think a little bit of both. A lot people look at coaches and just see Xs and Os. But it's kind of like a college coach. When you hire a college coach, you just don't hire that coach, you kind of hire his program, the way he does things. Everything from his strength and conditioning guy, how they work guys out, how guys practice. You don't just hire a body, you hire program.
GH: Do you think there is still the "Bungles," stigma about the Bengals through the NFL?
BS: I don't get it, but that's not to say that's it not out there. More importantly, it's not in the locker room.
GH: Was it before?
BS: To some extent it was. You know, we'd get in a game and it was, "Here we go." That's pretty much the same thing, it's just looking at it from another perspective. But that's the same thing. The most important part about it is it's not in the locker room. Once you cure that, it doesn't really matter what it is outside the locker room.
GH: Does this team believe it can win now?
BS: I really believe last year we felt that way. We knew that the games that we lost, we felt like we were right there, and it was just a matter of making that one play to get us over the hump. I don't think at the beginning, even though we lost those close ones, we didn't think that was the way the team was going to go. And then when we started winning, I don't think guys were surprised. I think guys were like, "OK, this is paying off, this is what it's like." Happy with it, enjoyed the taste of it and wanted more of it.
GH: Did you have trouble adjusting to A - a new position last year and B - the philosophy Marvin and Leslie (Frazier) brought in here?
BS: I don't know if I had difficulty. It was definitely a transition year for me. Not only me, but for everybody, really. The defense that we ran, out of the 11 starters, nobody had ever run that defense before. Everybody was learning on the run. It was a mix of coaches learning the players and players learning the coaches, too.
GH: Do you think the move to the outside was made tougher by the fact that it was a new defense?
BS: It's kind of hard to say because all of it is hypothetical. I guess you could look at it one way. Some people might say, "Well, everybody is learning the same thing, so you're kind of starting over, so you don't have the old stuff in your mind." But on the other hand, it might really have been a little easier if you were running the same defense and you had a good grasp on the defense and you know what is expected of you and how the defense should be run.
I don't know. I just think last year guys, toward the end of the year, I think guys might have lost a little confidence, but I don't think that's going to be a problem, this year.
GH: Lost confidence in the scheme? In themselves?
BS: No, just our performance. I don't know if guys really felt like we could go out here and shut them down.
GH: The defense had a good opening stretch.
GH: Then what happened?
BS: It kind of snowballed. After we started off kind of solid, we had a couple of games where we didn't perform as well, and then we had some games we were just terrible on defense.
GH: Which games?
BS: The 49er game (a 41-38 victory.) We created some turnovers, but for the most part, they were running their offense on air.
GH: Once it stated rolling. . .
BS: Right. Guys weren't 100 percent sure where they fit into the defense, and how the defense was supposed to play. But that was last year.
GH: Did you ever get comfortable over there?
BS: Last year, I never really felt as comfortable as I had in the previous years. Being in a spot in the same defense, knowing exactly what to do. The less you think, the faster you can play.
GH: What was the toughest adjustment going to the outside?
BS: It was getting used to reading different keys. From the middle, you're using different keys than from the outside. You've got different things that you need to be looking at to tell you what you need to do and where you need to fit. I had to constantly remind myself not to try and look at the keys that I was used to looking at playing in the middle.
GH: Kevin Hardy said one of the reasons it's easier for him to go back to the outside is because he knows where his key is. It's pretty much in front of him, and in the middle he's kind of looking all over.
BS: It wasn't that it was difficult, it was just a matter of getting used to it. Trying not to look at that guard, looking at that tackle, whatever. Just re-training your thoughts.
GH: You probably couldn't play as fast as you had in previous years.
GH: That must have been frustrating.
BS: It was.
GH: Is it easier this year? Are you more comfortable?
BS: Yeah. When we watch practice film, I can tell I'm getting my reads like I was used to doing in the middle. The one thing I made a conscious effort of doing when I was in the middle was getting my reads quickly, and being able to use your speed to get the ball and get to your spot.
GH: Do you like this scheme? You're a fast guy and that's what they want.
BS: For the most part, football is football. We're doing a lot of the same stuff. We're not doing anything that's radically different. For the most part, we're doing the same stuff, just calling it something different.
GH: Did they make the scheme simpler over the offseason?
BS: There aren't big changes. I just think everybody to this point is on the same page.
GH: Even though you have a new guy in the middle in Nate Webster and Kevin is now at strong?
BS: Because you've got everybody else around them who know what they're doing. I'm more comfortable in my position, now I can help out Nate. Kevin can help out Nate.
GH: Kevin seems more comfortable than he was last year.
BS: As far as defensively and from a physical point.
GH: They went out and got a lot of guys on defense who have something to prove. Guys who might be at the crossroads. A guy like Deltha O'Neal who got traded by Denver. A guy like Kim Herring who missed all of last season with a broken arm, and wants to show he can go to a Super Bowl with a third team. Nate is trying to prove he's a legit starter after backing up for five years in Tampa. Do you feel you have something to prove? Maybe you didn't have that great of a year last year and it was because of the transition?
BS: I don't think since I've been in the league I've had a great year, anyway.
GH: Is that something that disappoints you?
BS: By great year, I mean finishing the season in Hawaii. I think I've had some solid years. I'm looking to reach that point.
GH: Do you think you're there? Do you think you've had years where you think you played well enough to go to the Pro Bowl if you were on better teams?
BS: I would think so. Two years up the middle I had six and a half sacks, and 130 tackles. There's so much other stuff that goes into it. I'm just saying when they look out there and say, have you been to the Pro Bowl? That s a goal for me.
GH: They drafted two fast linebackers in the third round, and I guess you've read some things speculating when they might end up playing.
BS: You know how that is. I guess people want to see new stuff. They think everything is changing. But I can say since I've been here, and I don't really say much, but there hasn't been a person that's played here on defense that's made more plays than I've made since I've been here. I'm just looking forward to playing.
GH: After all those plays and tackles, you finally get to play on Monday night for the first time. You also have a Sunday night, and the last two haven't been very good.
BS: No, but that was then, this is now. We definitely want to have a better showing on the national stage. Sunday night is a poor man's Monday night. It's second best. Monday night is the showcase. That's when everybody is watching. I can't ever remember not watching a Monday night game.
GH: What has been your biggest accomplishment as a Bengal?
BS: That's a good question. I know it hasn't come yet, and hopefully it will be this year. It's about going to the Super Bowl and winning it. I don't think there was a highlight last year because we didn't get what we wanted and that was winning the division.
GH: How disappointing was that last game of the season, given how Cleveland won it with (Lee) Suggs running wild?
BS: Real disappointing. Not only that, you can roll with that if you win the game. But we had a chance to handle our part of it. It was that two-way deal, and we didn't handle the one part we totally controlled.
GH: Do you think this team is better than last year?
BS: That's comparing reality to the unknown. You can't do that. You can make that comparison, but it's not a true one. It's all paper right now. Do I think we have a good chance of being a lot better than what we did last year? I think so. I think we've added guys who can play football, we've got another year in the defense. We've got what? Three new starters (O'Neal, Herring, Webster), so we've got guys who have been here in the system. The new guys have made plays. We've got backups that can make plays. A lot of times people just want to look at the starters.
GH: Can a team make the playoffs with a rookie quarterback ?
BS: Yeah. Will we? Nobody knows. There are 31 teams with veteran quarterbacks, some are 10-year vets, and they don't now if they're going to the playoffs, either. It's not how Carson plays, its how we play as a team,
GH: Who is the best offensive player you've gone against?
BS: That's so hard because you have to compare apples and oranges. I would never say, "Best." I would say, "One of." There is probably a list of five.
GH: Who would be at the top?
BS: Terrell Davis probably, pre knee injury. Jamal Lewis is pretty tough. He runs hard every play, too.
GH: A little bit like Eddie George?
BS: Eddie George is a strong runner. I wouldn't necessarily say he runs hard. There's a difference. When Terrell Davis played, he ran hard. He ran strong, but not as strong as say George because of his size. If you measure impact, like pounds of pressure, I think Terrell Davis probably was the hardest running guy out there. Jamal has that size, 6-foot, 230, 240, whatever, and he runs a 4.4.
GH: What about Jerome Bettis as far as impact?
BS: Bettis would have to be right up there. The thing about Bettis, when I first came into the league, what I didn't realize, for him to weigh whatever, he had good feet for a guy that size. I was surprised at the cuts that he could make and the way he found holes. That makes him more than just a big back.
GH: You were drafted in the first round in 1998 with fellow linebacker Takeo Spikes and you guys were always viewed together as a duo. When he went to Buffalo as a free agent before last season, what did you guys lose on the field?
BS: Any player you have that's been a good player, who has been in the lineup every game, who makes plays, you're going to miss things. But that's not to say other guys can't bring those things to the table. You miss the things he does from him, but those things can be replaced. He was a playmaker, he was consistent, a leader, somebody you knew come game time, he was going to be ready to play.
With that said, I think the guys that we got are the same type guys GH: Seems like Webster is a fiery emotional guy like Takeo.
BS: I think so. We haven't played a game together yet, but that's been his M.O. since he's been in the league. **
GH: Some said that maybe you missed Takeo's fire last year.**
BS: People can say what they want to say. We didn't play well last year on defense because we didn't execute. It had nothing to do with fire, water, ice, or any other element.
Yeah, you miss him as a teammate and as a friend. We talk often. Maybe once a week or so. I don't talk to him about anything we're doing, and most of the time he doesn't talk about what's going on in Buffalo. We talk about our families and other stuff, and when we talk football, it's usually in general, not about Cincinnati and Buffalo.
GH: Is he talking about the game here yet in December?
BS: We haven't said much, if anything. He knows he's coming here.
GH: You keep it low profile up in Symmes Township. What do you do in your free time?
My little girl (Brianna turns 8 Saturday) is busy. She does a little bit of everything. Sports and after school activities. She took tennis lessons. She ran track earlier this spring. I go to as much as I can. Little kids are busy these days. They need a personal assistant.