Steelers--Simmons returns

<b>LATROBE - </b> Kendall Simmons returned to practice Monday, but he didn't really return until about halfway through the practice. That's when a defensive lineman gave him a cheap shot.

"I think I got a little pissed off in the team pass thing and that kind of sparked a fire," said Simmons. "That's all I needed. I got shoved the wrong way and I thought something was a little dirty."

Simmons then went to the one-on-one drills and held his own for a rare three consecutive snaps.

"That one little instance kind of flipped the switch for me," he said. "It brought the old Kendall back, so I'm ready to roll now."

It couldn't happen any sooner as far as the Steelers are concerned. The right guard returned to bolster an offensive line that allowed a safety and five sacks in a 26-13 preseason loss to the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

Simmons alternated at right guard Monday with Saturday's starter, Keydrick Vincent, as Simmons attempts to regain his strength and stamina after losing 30 pounds because of a diabetic condition that was diagnosed two days before the start of training camp.

Simmons checked his blood-sugar levels before, during and after practice and feels he's on his way back to the starting lineup. But Simmons wasn't the only new face in the offensive line Monday. Free-agent acquisition Todd Fordham, who'd missed the game in Detroit after undergoing an MRI on his elbow, returned to practice and alternated at right tackle with Oliver Ross. Coach Bill Cowher indicated he's considering Fordham as a potential starter.
"We need to try to create some type of continuity over there and get a combination that can start working together," Cowher said. "He's very much in that picture."

Cowher also used backup left tackle Mathias Nkwenti as a backup right tackle for the first time Monday.

"Mathias played pretty well the other day. He did a good job pass protecting," Cowher said. "We put him a little more on the right side to see how he can handle it. He's been on the left side for two-and-a-half years. Again, you have to have some flexibility. If you're not starting on the offensive line you've got to be able to play more than one position. That's more of the reason than anything."

As for Simmons, Cowher said he'd check with the training staff before increasing his workload on a daily basis.

"We'll see how he is by the end of the week," Cowher said. "He seems like he did pretty well. I think there was a little anxiety. He said he was more nervous than anything. After he gets a couple days in and isn't worrying about it or thinking about it I think he'll be fine. It won't take long for him to forget about his blood."

Simmons said he was "rusty. That's about it. I've got a long way to go."

He played last season with an additional 20 pounds but said those days are behind him. He weighs 305 and hopes to remain at that weight while adding strength.

"My weight's fine," he said. "I just can't blow up to 320 and 325 no more like I'm used to doing. I have to stay where I'm at now, 300 or 305, and just keep it there. I can't afford to do that unless it's muscle. That would make my sugar go up and stay up. That's just something I've got to concentrate on."

Last year's first-round draft pick, Simmons moved into the opening-day lineup and started 14 games at right guard. He was voted the team's Rookie of the Year by the media. Simmons doesn't feel that playing at a lighter weight will affect his performance. 

"I wanted to be light coming into camp anyway so I'd be a little quicker," he said. "It's my strength I'm worried about getting back. That's all that matters right now, but it's getting better. I can tell my legs are getting stronger. It just isn't where it needs to be right now, so I've got at least three weeks until the real deal to get my strength where it needs to be at. That's all I'm concerned about right now. I'm not worried about the rest of it."

Simmons said the key to his return will be a consistent blood-sugar level. To that end, he eats four to five meals per day, takes two injections of insulin and has been checking his blood-sugar level twice a day. The mid- and post-practice checks will likely add to that total.

"When the level's high, I get tired quick and then my eyes get blurry," he said. "When it's low I start sweating a lot and shaking. I know the symptoms and the way I feel and what to look for.

"I've been doing good. It's just been going up and going down. Conditioning-wise, I feel I'm in pretty good shape. I get tired a little fast but that'll come in due time."

Cowher hasn't ruled Simmons out of Saturday's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Simmons is simply hoping to play in one of the three remaining games.

"I'd like to at least get a game in to at least knock the rust off," he said.

Jim Wexell

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