When we first asked a member of the USC sports information department to speak to redshirt junior defensive lineman Delvon Simmons, the question was met with a chuckle. Apparently, another reporter had asked a question about Simmons just prior. And that was pretty much the first time anyone had inquired about Simmons since the beginning of the season.
Very few people outside the program seem to notice the work of Simmons. The Texas Tech transfer from McKeesport (Penn.) who originally was committed to North Carolina, bounced around before landing at USC, and has flown under the radar while wearing the cardinal and gold.
And that’s perfectly fine with Simmons. He’s letting other people do the talking, even if they may not see the full impact he has.
“I don’t really like to say too much,” Simmons said. “I let people talk upon my game or whatever, but I feel like I’m doing everything I can to take my game to the next level. I hope people are seeing it, but I feel like I’m doing all the right things, doing what I’m coached to do. That’s all I can do.”
Simmons is eighth on the team with 43 tackles, second most of any down lineman. He has 2.5 tackles for loss, including a five-yard sack against Washington State. But his most important game might have been the one in which he didn’t record a tackle.
In his first start of the season, against Stanford, Simmons didn’t have a tackle. But he made two huge plays that helped USC escape with a 13-10 victory. When the Cardinal’s first drive stalled, Jordan Williamson came out to attempt a 49-yard field goal, but Simmons got a piece of the ball for a blocked kick. During the second half, middle linebacker Hayes Pullard got ejected for targeting on a long kickoff return. Stanford began their drive at USC’s 32-yard line, but on the first play quarterback Kevin Hogan fumbled the ball and Simmons was there to fall on it to give USC possession.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, Simmons is a large, hulking presence on the defensive line. The first thing anyone mentions when talking about Simmons is how big he is. His size is ideal for the system the Trojans are trying to run.
“When you look at Delvon, Leonard [Williams], Claude [Pelon], those are the body types we’re really looking forward to in recruiting of trying to find for our interior defensive linemen,” USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said.
His size enables Simmons to do the dirty work that often frees up his teammates to make plays.
“Delvon is a guy that can really hold the point, hold the gap that he’s responsible for,” Sarkisian said. “He’s so big and long a lot of times he can absorb two blockers and free up a linebacker to go make that play.”
If taking on double teams was a statistic regularly recorded, Simmons would be competing with Leonard Williams for the team lead.
“It makes the edge players — the Su’as of the world — and the inside backers — the Hayes and Anthonys of the world — job a lot easier,” Sarkisian said. “if you try to single block [the defensive linemen], they’re going to defeat those single blocks and make the plays. They force double teams and that should free up those other guys to go make plays.”
Making Simmons even more difficult to block for opponents is his versatility. Simmons can play in trenches in the middle or spread out wider and go head-to-head with the tackle.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said Simmons is a guy “built to play the four-technique” in his 3-4 defensive front where Simmons is playing defensive end lined up against an offensive tackle. But during his two years at Texas Tech, Simmons played as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, lining up on the outside of the guard in a three-technique.
Simmons said he prefers playing end, but he is willing to play wherever the coaches want to put him.
“Whatever it is, whenever my coach needs from me to step up. If he needs me to play nose, I’ll play nose. That’s my role for the day,” Simmons said. “If he needs me to play end, I’ll play end if that’s my role of the day. My role is to be wherever, whenever and just be available whenever my number is called.”
Having Simmons play more nose tackle may be the case for USC in the National University Holiday Bowl. Starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods suffered a chest injury and had season-ending surgery earlier this week while Woods’ backup Cody Temple is battling through a sore back.
“We’re fortunate enough to where we have some versatile guys. Cody can play that position, but very easily Delvon can step in there,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got some versatile guys that we’re fortunate to have there.”
If Simmons has to slide inside to nose tackle, it’ll just be another transition for a player that has grown used to change. After flirting with USC coming out of high school, Simmons signed with North Carolina on National Signing Day in 2011. But a little over a month later, he was released from his commitment and ended up going to Texas Tech. After two years in Lubbock, Texas, Simmons chose to transfer to USC.
“It’s been a big transition! But it wasn’t that hard because I’m from the city,” Simmons said.
McKeesport is a part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, so being in a city wasn’t new, but it was still a shock going from a small college town in West Texas to the sprawling big city lights of Los Angeles.
“It really was [a shock],” Simmons said. “All the cotton fields and stuff and all the dirt. It’s like depressing. It’s got its perks I guess, but I mean it was different going from the city to where it was nothing and everything else is far away.”
There also has been the transition from the Big XII to the Pac-12, which Simmons said is more physical. While both conferences are known for spreading the field and throwing the ball around, the Pac-12 isn’t nearly as pass happy as the Big XII.
“In the Big XII, it’s just like 7-on-7. You’re pass rushing every play,” Simmons said. “Here you have to watch out for the run also. I would say that’s the biggest difference between the two is just the run game, the run difference.”
Simmons said he has become a better player since coming to USC because he’s had to be more conscious of opponents' rush attack. He’s also benefitted from playing beside guys like Leonard Williams, who Simmons said he learns something new everyday.
And Simmons is now matching up everyday in practice against offensive linemen that were almost all four- and five-star recruits coming out of high school.
“It’s better competition. It’s been a good transition to get used to going against good players everyday instead of going against one or two while I was at Tech. I think that was the biggest transition for me. Being able to bring it everyday and just work hard and dominate.”
The defensive line, including Simmons, continues to develop and he thinks that even with the likely departure of Williams, they can be a force next year.
“It’s going to be a challenge, losing Leonard and everything, but I feel like we have a good group of guys,” Simmons said. “Everybody comes out to work hard and just do their job. I feel like we’re going to step up whenever the time is needed.”
That may start with Simmons filling in for the production lost from Williams.
“He’s a conscientious guy that wants to do well,” Wilcox said of Simmons. “He wants to be a better player and he should continue to do so.”