Simmons says his Irish linebackers will have to play disciplined football this week to stop the Navy rushing attack.
"One of the key things when you play any option team is discipline," said Simmons. "The quarterback pitch is a fundamental of taking away the option. Navy has had some success this year so as far as our responsibilities are concerned, if we are playing any kind of zone coverage we are in our drops, but any time we play any man coverage that we can help on any kind of play option by being aggressive to their backs. It's going to be a disciplined game that we have to play."
The Midshipmen are a true option team. Their fullback, Kyle Eckel, is their leading rusher on the season. Simmons says that makes it even more difficult on the Irish defense. The Irish will have to key on Eckel, just as much as the quarterback, and the pitch man.
"It makes it so that they can't guess. One, if you've got the guy, you take the guy, don't pass him up. He's (Eckel) the leading rusher on the football team, don't pass him up. From our assignment standpoint, we have to put a lot of pressure on him, got to shake him up. It's built in within the framework of what we are doing so we have to make sure we take him away and we take the quarterback away and we take the pitch away."
"Courtney played there last year. That's the irony of the whole thing, he played 50/50 last year. Because of the rotation, Courtney went to the MIKE backer and Hoyte went to the WILL backer. I think he is having a heck of a year in terms of the number of tackles. The middle backer doesn't have to be 6'4" and 250lbs. Do I think it is difficult for him? No, I don't."
Two freshman that are listed as MIKE linebackers are Dwight Stephenson and Nick Borseti. We asked Simmons what he thought of Stephenson so far. "He has the ability, Borsetti has the ability – those guys have to go through a good solid spring of teaching the fundamentals. I like the size of all of them, including Mitchell Thomas who will grow and be a good sam backer for us. We will have some kids back who could be as good as Goolsby, Mays, Hoyte and Curry."
"I don't know about ideal, ideal is when you make all the plays all the time," said Simmons when asked if Thomas was an ideal SAM linebacker. "His size and speed, it all comes down to the basics, learning, technique, - he makes plays on our scout team sessions and now he has to make it in a coaching atmosphere where you can be your own self but play within the concept of our defense."
Joe Brockington is the fourth freshman linebacker. Simmons says he's been impressive as well. "It's been good, all these young guys are going through a learning process. Joe has shown flashes of really having some good abilities – it'll be interesting to see what winter brings, winter conditioning, growth, maturity. Then we can see what happens in the spring."
Playing linebacker takes time to understand the position according to Simmons. He says they have much to learn before being ready to play. "It's the knowledge of the game, the knowledge of the defense, the knowledge of the offense, it's knowing where to be, it's calling out the signals, it's recognizing formations, it's getting the line adjusts, it's all those things that sometimes overwhelms a young guy."
"You really don't have a lot of different assignments, we do ask you to play within the concept of the defense," Simmons continued. "Once you learn our defense, your abilities will come forth. You can see that in the guys who are playing right now, Courtney and those guys have been a part of this defense for the last several years. I think once a young man understands the concept, learns it and accepts it, lets it happen, then they play defense."
Simmons says he expects the freshman to improve a lot over the winter. "The most important thing for them to do is be here, first of all take care of their academics and then gain some size, keep learning our defense so they comfortable with how we call signals and how we play within the concept of out defense. I'll venture to say a lot of guys will show up in the spring."
Simmons will need his freshman to develop next year to add some depth. It sounds as if they have the physical tools. The best players start to emerge as sophomores. Our first indication will likely come next year as to which of these players will become stars at linebacker for the Irish.