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Scouting Simmons

Simmoms as a Bengal in 2006. (Bengals photo)

Posted: 11:10 p.m.

MOBILE, Ala. - It is practice, but the most versatile linebacker in Bengals history has on his game face in the glare of the morning sun that is bouncing off hard, aluminum bleachers.

Brian Simmons doesn't look up as someone leans over and asks him what he's writing in his notebook.

"Looking at his burst. It's zone coverage. Looking at his ability to break on the ball. Speed to the ball. I just wrote it was good," Simmons says. "This ain't freaking theology class. It's real simple, you know?"

It is real simple because it is football. But for Simmons, 34, it is also religion. It is why he is here at a Senior Bowl practice, a former first-round pick charting mostly maybes and never wills in his first year as a regional scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He could be on one of the lakes that is a zone blitz away from his home in Windermere, Fla., checking in now and again on business investments.

"This is the business I want to be in," Simmons says. "My goal is to be a general manager."

Gene Smith, the Jags general manager, had the same thought as Terry McDonough, his director of player personnel, when Simmons' resumé slid across their desks last spring. Both men have worked their way up on the back roads of the game doing the grimy, bottle-washing jobs of personnel.

Breaking down film. Driving in the dead of a frozen night to some godforsaken outpost to get a liner on a longshot. Standing in line to interview some 22-year-old kid that thinks you're 14 other guys he just met in a hotel lobby.

"I'm thinking that here is a first-round pick with money in the bank," says McDonough, standing on the field with Smith after practice comparing notes. "And I'm wondering how much passion is he going to have for scouting?"

But, why not? They both relied on their notes. When Simmons came out of North Carolina in 1998, McDonough was doing what he's doing now as the Southeast scout for the Ravens. So was Smith as the Southeast scout for the Jags.

"Terry and I both scouted him coming out of college. We knew he had passion for the game," Smith says. "It was just whether he had passion for the scouting profession. I think he certainly showed this fall that he does. He's definitely got a natural feel for it."

It also helped that Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Duffner, Simmons' position coach and later his coordinator during his first five seasons in Cincinnati, happily took Simmons' call and got him the interview with Smith.

"We say if you've got the skill," Smith says, "we'll teach you the will."

McDonough knows it's working out because when his path follows Simmons in his Northeast area, he'll get four or five unsolicited reactions that the new guy is a hard worker who goes about his business all business.

"That's what I hear," McDonough says of the campus visits. "Brian Simmons shows up early, stays late and asks the right questions."

Right now in the stands he is being asked if a player has an edge over a non-player in becoming a scout.

"It doesn't mean you become a good scout or you become a better scout than a guy that didn't play just because you were a player," he says. "You still have to do the work and if you do the work then, yeah clearly a player does have an advantage."

Certainly it is an advantage on this day. For this week, Simmons is studying and reporting on all the linebackers on both teams. Talk about a natural feel. This is like Simon Cowell scouting rudeness.

When Simmons was the 17th pick in the 1998 draft, the Bengals put him inside in a 3-4 defense. Then when they switched to a 4-3 defense late the next season, he became the middle linebacker. When head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, Simmons went outside in a 4-3 to WILL backer. When Odell Thurman ran into off-field problems after his rookie season in 2005, Simmons moved back to the middle in the 2006 spring camp and started the first four games there before making a start on the other side at SAM.

When the Bengals cut him after nine seasons, Simmons started at SAM and in the middle for the Saints in 2007, his last season. 

"I'm not looking for a position, I'm looking for a guy that can play," Simmons says. "An athletic guy. If he's good enough and can think on his feet, then he can make the adjustment to positions. I'm looking for three things mainly with linebackers: Their range, what kind of strength do they have taking on blockers, and how quickly do they diagnose (a play) and react."

Now is probably a good time to ask Brian Simmons to give a report on Brian Simmons. He looks up from the notebook.

"I thought I had great instincts, great movement skills," Simmons says. "His one weakness would have been stack and shed. Taking on blockers and getting rid of them. It wasn't bad, but that was the one area where he was average or slightly above average."

A grade?

"I would have to give a first-round grade, right?" he asks with a laugh.

That is what he is doing now. Assigning grades, which are rounds, and since he has yet to go through the draft he doesn't know how good he is at it yet.

"I think I've got a decent feel for it, but I'm real interested to see how it comes out," Simmons says. "You use it to compare. If you see a guy that reminds you of a guy, but he's a little better or not as good, then you can use that to make the grade."

Simmons spends a lot of this week with two of the Jags' other area scouts, Chris Prescott of the Southwest and Jason DesJarlais of the Midwest. Both were good college players in the '90s. Prescott was a four-year safety for Western New England College and DesJarlais was a two-time All-America defensive lineman at Western Montana College.

They weren't the 17th pick in the draft, but Simmons has gratefully accepted their help. Prescott is in his ninth season in Jags scouting and DesJarlais has been a college coach or pro scout for the past 15 seasons.

"They've helped me out a lot," Simmons says. "We've got a great staff and they've bent over backwards showing me how to do things."

McDonough and Smith had their '98 scouting reports drilled on Simmons when it comes to passion. The day the Bengals clinched the 2005 AFC North title in Detroit, Simmons stayed to play when he found out wife Rachel was in labor the morning of the game and he couldn't get up and back in time for kickoff. Tyler, 4, arrived with his first and only playoff shot, and on the same morning his grandfather passed away in North Carolina.

Rachel gave her blessing then and she gave it when he pursued the scouting job.

"I wouldn't have done it if she didn't want me to do it," Simmons says. "I do it for the mental health. What am I going to do for hopefully the next 50 years? You've got to move into the next phase of your life."

This week, that means watching a practice and then finding a place for lunch that he says, while nodding to Prescott and DesJarlais, "I couldn't find again if my life depended on it without these guys." Then it's another practice and a stop at the players' hotel to find the one player he has left to interview from the Northeast.

"That only takes about 10 to 15 minutes," says Simmons, who was never known as an outgoing guy like his '98 draft soul mate Takeo Spikes. "You get the basic information and from there you go where the conversation takes you. I'm no Takeo, but I'm not Landon (Johnson). Landon is a great guy, but he doesn't say much. I'm somewhere in between."

Then after dinner he heads to the communal film room in the players' hotel to watch tape of both practices. He makes notes for things to look for the next day. Simmons gets his shot in the morning practice.

"You might see a guy who makes a lot of plays in the box," Simmons says. "So he's got good short-area quickness. But then you say, 'I haven't really seen him open up.' I want to see what kind of speed he has to see if he can go sideline to sideline."

The Jaguars believe they've got a guy who will go coast-to-coast in the Northeast. The scouting report has held up.

"Clean-cut, classy, good family man," McDonough says. "Works hard. Does the right things. Has no negatives. Represents you the way you want."

Simmons is hoping his reports hold up just as well 12 years later.

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