Fall camp journal: Simmons leads O-line

The East Carolina offensive line was the driving force for an offense that scored with ease last season. Inside ECU Sports was at practice to speak with players and coaches about how the unit looked in this weekend's scrimmage.

The Pirates had their first fall scrimmage over the weekend. The offensive line had a good showing and head coach Ruffin McNeill took notice.

"The two offensive lines played well together in the scrimmage," McNeill said. "We have some nicks up there, but even the third line came in and did some positive things."

Senior offensive lineman Will Simmons received all of the preseason accolades on the offensive line – he was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List and preseason First-Team All-Conference USA by Phil Steele's College Football Preview Magazine.

Coach McNeill trusts Simmons as the leader of the offensive line and has full confidence in the group.

"Will (Simmons) is our rock up there," McNeill said. "He's doing a good job leading them. Him and Adhem Elsawi right there playing together is a great combination. Taylor Hudson and C.J. Stryuk are doing a really good job inside as well."

Simmons is the first Pirate offensive lineman to be named to the watch list since Brian Rimpf in 2002 and 2003. He knows how important his leadership role is and mentioned the accolades aren't affecting his preparation.

"I'm trying to lead by example and get everybody focused," the 6-foot-5, 340-pound Simmons said. "(The awards) don't really affect anything. We've had the same goals, to win a conference championship and do our best to win games."

The confidence Simmons has in his teammates on the line is very high and things are beginning to come together.

"We're gelling pretty well," Simmons said. "It's the same offensive line from spring so I'm really confident in the guys. Ike Harris is a newer guy who is doing really well."

Simmons was one of three offensive players (punters and kickers excluded) named to a College Football Performance Award Watch List. Junior wide receiver Justin Hardy was named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List and junior quarterback Shane Carden made the CFPA Offensive Awards Watch list.

All three players had big seasons last year, but offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley believes the offense's success in 2013 will rely on one in particular.

"If we're good on the offensive line than we're a good team," Riley said. "Everyone asks about our one-thousand yard receiver and running back or our three-thousand yard quarterback – those guys deserve some credit, but to do that you have to be great on the offensive line. The line is always that key group for us."

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