The Syracuse defense in the 2014 season was among the nation’s best in a plethora of categories. A big reason was due to talented veterans all over the field. The issue becomes in 2015, where the Orange have to replace eight of the starters off of that unit.
Two of those starters were at defensive end, spots that Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh have held down for the past two seasons. One of the players Syracuse is looking to step up at one of those positions is Donnie Simmons, a redshirt senior who figures to have a prominent role on this year’s team.
While playing behind Welsh and Robinson, Simmons was able to learn quite a bit about the game and the position.
”Micah and Robert Welsh were great leaders and great in their craft,” Simmons said. “Their mechanics and their love for the game were something that rubbed off on a lot of us. The people that were behind them. Learning from them was great. They were great players in my eyes. Learning how to be precise on my technique and love the game because they were just so intuitive.
”Just to learn from their success. Obviously being able to perfect my technique as best I can and trying to excel at my position along with everyone else. Trying to influence others and trying to be the leaders of the defense. We had some great athletes that played before me. All I can do now is learn from them and try to do the best I can as a defensive end.”
Simmons has been spending a lot of time in the weight room in order to get ready for his increased role. He is adding muscle to his frame while increasing strength and keeping his speed. He does not have a set number of added weight, but believes he is bigger and stronger than last season.
Each offseason, as he spends more time in the strength and conditioning program, he transforms his body more and more in order to get where he needs to be for increased playing time. Learning how to do that behind Robinson and Welsh was important.
While the work in the weight room has been important, maybe more critical has been technique work. Specifically, working on his hands both in terms of placement, using them to shed blocks and helping him attack opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks.
”Every year it’s a progression,” Simmons said. “I feel like every time I go into the weight room, I gain strength in my arms and my legs. Any body part that can help me on the football field. Especially working on the sleds. I work on my hands all the time. Just working that technique is perfect for me and the program.”
It’s all about the hands for Simmons, who works on that aspect of his game as much as any. Why so much attention on hand placement and hand technique as a defensive end?
”For any defensive lineman, your hands are the most important weapon that you have,” Simmons said. “Without them, it’s hard to really do what you have to do to be effective on the field. I know for me, I have to work on my hands continuously over and over again so it can translate on the field.”
While working on his hands continues to be a focus, Simmons is not ignoring other parts of his game.
”Definitely my takeoff and my eye placement,” Simmons said. “Knowing where my opponent is going to be at all times because your eyes lead the pack. Wherever your eyes go, your body goes. Other elements, like I said, my takeoff. Knowing the plays and the playbook so I can perform my duties.”
Simmons is currently slated as the favorite to start at defensive end opposite Ron Thompson.