STILLWATER — Caleb Lavey was not the most athletic linebacker to patrol Big 12 tundra. Yet Lavey made first-team all-conference for OSU in 2013 because he was a smart, savvy player. He knew where to be and how to get there.
Now junior-to-be Ryan Simmons moves into the middle linebacker spot for the Cowboys. Simmons has played extensively; he had 67 tackles last season as OSU’s weakside linebacker, plus an interception. Simmons has proven to be a playmaker.
Now Simmons has to prove that his mental side of the game is as advanced as the physical side.
“Caleb, he’s one of those guys, he knows everything,” said Simmons, who backed up Lavey in 2012. “Just the way he prepared. Certain things he picked up, I’m sure I saw. Just knowing the defense, I’m going to have to make sure I hold myself accountable for it and being up to the same level as Caleb.”
The middle linebacker calls the defensive signals. Identifies the offensive formation and makes the proper adjustments. It requires a sharp mind and veteran eyes.
“I’m willing to take it on,” Simmons said. “If coach (Glenn) Spencer’s giving me the opportunity to fill this role, I’m going to do everything it takes to do it.”
OSU’s spring practice started last week, and the Cowboys will have a rebuilt defense. OSU had seven senior starters on defense in 2013. A veteran like Simmons would have been important even had he stayed at weakside linebacker. In the middle, Simmons’ experience is even more invaluable.
“There’s a lot more talking, you have to do a lot more calls, making sure the front’s right, and the field where the blitz is coming from, making sure everybody knows and communicating with one another,” Simmons said. “Just more talking, I think, than the will (weakside linebacker) would have to do.”
In the offseason, OSU coach Mike Gundy mentioned Simmons as one of the emerging team leaders.
Departed linebackers Lavey and Shaun Lewis “were good because they got those reps early in their career,” Gundy said. “Caleb was a different player not physically, but mentally, in his last two years than he was early in his career. Now, Ryan should benefit from that experience.”
Simmons was a middle linebacker in high school for Cibolo Steele, which won the 2010 Texas state championship in Class 5A Division II.
“I love the middle linebacker,” Simmons said. “I played middle linebacker pretty much my whole life. I wouldn’t say it’s somewhat second nature, but it is in a sense, because I like being in the middle of the defense and having that field to roam sideline to sideline. I love making plays. Obviously in this defense, mike (middle linebacker) is going to make a lot of plays. So it’s a great opportunity.”