Camp O'Brien: Simmons in a Battle

RALEIGH, N.C. -- With the news that junior college transfer Clem Johnson could be out for the season after breaking his jaw in Sunday's scrimmage, arguably the thinnest position on NC State's roster just got thinner.

Senior J.C. Neal and Javon Walker are battling at strong safety, and the free safety position is up for grabs between redshirt freshmen Justin Byers and Jimmaul Simmons. Simmons enrolled last January after a prep season at Hargrave Military Academy. The 6-2, 200-pound defender with 4.51-second speed in the 40-yard dash played high school ball at Wilmington (NC) New Hanover before prepping at Hargrave where he impressed head coach Robert Prunty.

"He started for us at safety, and he's going to be a great one," Prunty stated when Simmons verbaled to the Wolfpack. "He won't be any different than some of the others we've been fortunate enough to have play in Raleigh.

"Jimmaul comes from great pedigree too. His uncle is Clyde Simmons, who played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his dad played at Wake Forest. So he has that toughness in him. I'm telling you, he's a player."

An explosive athlete, Simmons has plenty of physical tools. During the 2007 Red/White Game, he flashed that explosiveness when he picked off a Harrison Beck pass in the endzone and returned the interception 100 yards for a touchdown.

He redshirted last season, and Simmons is now poised to receive major playing time. Each practice he looks to try and continue developing as a football player.

"We're best friends."

"I think I'm doing pretty good right now," said Simmons. "I'm just here to play. I'm just here for my team. Whatever I can do to make the team better, that is what I'm going to do."

The toughest part could be he is competing for the starting spot with one of his closest friends, fellow redshirt freshman Justin Byers. A versatile defensive back out of Charlotte (NC) Vance High School, Byers enrolled capable of playing cornerback or safety before settling at free safety. He is one of the fastest players on the team and also a solid tackler.

What does Simmons think of the competition?

"We're best friends," he said. "We're working hard together. We're doing everything we can to help each other out. We're both fighting for a starting spot, but it doesn't matter because we're a team.

"Whichever one of us starts, that will be fine because we're going to back each other up the best that we can. There is no conflict between us."

To be successful in 2008, NC State will need Simmons and Byers to step up. The corners and rovers are experienced, and the front four should be able to apply pressure on the quarterback. Solid play at free safety is a must for the defense. Through the first two weeks of fall camp, Simmons thinks the defense has the potential to be a strength for the Wolfpack.

"I think the defense is really good," he said. "We're working real hard, and everyone is learning the plays. We're all coming together. We are starting to get a swagger... I think the defense will be good this year."

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