The right choice

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By SCOTT M. JOHNSON

Herald Writer

KIRKLAND – The defining moment of Anthony Simmons’ football career came not from what he did, but from what his coach did not do.

It was Simmons’ sophomore year at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School, and coach Doc Davis had a fleeting premonition of the future. As Simmons, a speedy 150-pound safety, intercepted a pass and broke three tackles on the way to a touchdown, Davis envisioned his next great tailback.

Just as quickly, the image went away. Simmons would not follow in the footsteps of Spartanburg High graduate Stephen Davis and become one of the state’s top running backs. Doc Davis decided right then that defense was the way to go.

“We weren’t going to take him away from what he did on defense,” Davis said last week, eight years after the fact. “We didn’t want to fool with that at all.”

For that decision, and a later one by Mike Holmgren to move Simmons outside in his third NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks are thankful. Simmons’ smooth transition from the middle has made Seattle’s linebacking unit the strength of its defense.

His role as a defensive player solidified in 1994, Simmons went to become South Carolina’s state player of the year as a senior and eventually earned All-America honors as a linebacker at Clemson University.

In March, Simmons went back to his old high school and had his jersey retired. It was an uncomfortable moment for the Seahawks’ quiet linebacker, who would prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

“It’s OK. It’s cool,” Simmons said of the recognition. “Every now and then it gets to you because you go somewhere and you just want to relax. It’s not that people bother you, but they want to talk to you and stuff like that.”

In Seattle, things are a bit more sane. Although he was the Seahawks’ first-round pick in 1998, Simmons has been able to slide through the first two years of his NFL career in relative anonymity.

Until recently, that is.

“I was looking at the films and watching him against San Diego a little bit,” said Kansas City Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham, whose team faces the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. “San Diego obviously has Junior Seau down there, but he reminds me of a Junior Seau.”

Simmons still has a long way to go to be Junior Seau. But his recent surge has been enough to solidify the Seahawks’ linebacker position – an area of concern heading into the 2000 season.

Entering this season, Simmons was being moved to outside linebacker for the first time in his career, Chad Brown was taking on a different role from last season and George Koonce was being relied upon as a new starter after getting released by the Green Bay Packers.

“Obviously there were some questions there,” defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell said last week. “But before it’s all over, I think this will be a very representative group.”

So far, the unit has held its own. In some aspects, it has actually exceeded expectations thus far.

Simmons may be the most surprising contributor. He had a breakout game two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints, making 10 solo tackles and assisting on two others in his third game at outside linebacker. He went on to surpass both marks in last week’s win over San Diego, when he had 14 tackles, including 11 solo. All of the sudden, opposing coaches were beginning to put him and Seau in the same sentence.

“It’s all nice, but you can’t let that get to your head,” Simmons said. “I just try to be myself. I don’t really try to pattern myself after anybody. I just try to go out and do what I feel comfortable doing and play the game I feel comfortable playing.”

Now the question marks regarding Seattle’s linebacking corps are fading away. So far, Simmons’ move from starting middle linebacker to the outside has been a success. In the meantime, Koonce has stepped into the middle to provide veteran leadership to a group that lost projected starter DeShone Myles to a training camp knee injury. And Brown is quietly getting used to a pass-rushing role that includes third-down plays where he lines up alongside the defensive tackle.

“It takes advantage of what they do well,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “And it’s a continual work in progress. We’re just trying to get a little bit better. We’re not finished yet.”

As Flajole is quick to point out, Simmons still has a long way to go until he reaches the potential that Holmgren said could one day land him in the Pro Bowl. But the past two weeks have been a nice start.

In the process, Seattle’s linebacking unit is coming together. And for that, the Seahawks can thank Doc Davis.

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