Simmons shares NFL wisdom

Thursday, August 6, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Clyde Simmons, left, talks with anothner newcomer to the D-line, Michael Bankston
(Michael Snyder photo)
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GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Clyde Simmons already knows the answers, but he asks anyway. The Cincinnati Bengals' new defensive end rushes the passer with rare expertise, but periodically plays dumb on purpose.

"Some of the guys are reluctant to ask questions," Bengals line coach Tim Krumrie said Wednesday. "So Clyde's been asking simple questions. He knows it. He's asking it for the other guys."

Leadership is sometimes a matter of showing the way, and other times about making sure no one gets left behind. When the Bengals signed Simmons last May, their obvious need was for a right end to replace Dan Wilkinson. Their less obvious need was for a serious, seasoned veteran -- someone who could set an example and shed a block. Someone who was more concerned about the game than the party afterward.

Seeking right attitude

"We had young guys who were gifted (in the past)," said Mike Brown, the general manager. "But they had growing pains. We set up differently this time around. We were conscious that we wanted a group of people who had an NFL attitude. We weren't looking to have more problems. We wanted fewer."

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Simmons, left, and Michael Bankston go at each other in drills.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Clyde Simmons confesses that he has lost some of his "burst" since 1992, when he led the league with 19 quarterback sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles, but his instincts are intact and his technique is virtually textbook. At 34, Simmons is plainly past his prime as a professional athlete, and yet he remains ahead of the competitive curve.

Where he stands vis-a-vis the underwhelming Wilkinson is yet to be determined. Wilkinson may well prosper in Washington, paired with the prolific Dana Stubblefield and distanced from the distractions of playing close to home.

Yet young Bengal linemen were unlikely to improve under Wilkinson's influence, and they are bound to benefit from Simmons' example. Sometimes in sports, you trade talent to get temperament. Particularly when that potential -- unrealized and uncommitted -- decides his difficulties are attributable to a racist town.

'It's about winning'

Yet age and attitudes notwithstanding, Simmons was a far more productive player than was Wilkinson last season. He bettered his own Jacksonville Jaguars team record with 8.5 sacks (compared to Wilkinson's five) and was credited with more than twice as many tackles as was Big Daddy. Sometimes in sports, you trade potential to get production.

"It's about winning," Simmons said, waddling out of the dressing room with an ice pack on his right knee. "That's the bottom line. You're judged on whether you're winning and making plays."

In 13 NFL seasons, Simmons has been part of six playoff teams and has made more plays than the Times drama critic. He will start the 1998 season with 109 sacks -- 11th on the all-time list -- and has personally dropped 55 different quarterbacks for a loss (Troy Aikman 9 1/2 times).

"He's helped me a lot," said Bengals rookie Steve Foley, who was college football's preeminent pass rusher last season. "He has so much wisdom. He's like Michael Jordan in a way. When you realize you can't drive to the basket every play, you change your game a little bit. That's what he's done."

At his best, Clyde Simmons was a blur. He'd blow past a tackle or a tight end with astonishing speed, and arrive at the quarterback like a locomotive. Recently, he's had to rely more on leverage, using his hands to supplement his slower legs.

A veteran player either learns to compensate for what he has lost, or he learns to play golf.

"I'm not the way I used to be," Simmons said. "Sometimes I could just run by somebody. But you've got to adjust your game as you go. Early in my career, all they talked about was getting upfield. But you have to have the whole arsenal. Because I was always undersized, I had to learn to use my hands a lot earlier than other guys just to survive."

What he has learned, Clyde Simmons is now teaching. Big Daddy has been replaced with a real father figure.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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