Simmons Took His Rightful Place, As a starter

Kendall Simmons took his rightful place in the Steelers lineup Monday, joining the team's first-team unit at right guard.<br><br>It was something that was a long time coming for Simmons, who had been out of action for what had seemed like an eternity to him.

Fortunately for Simmons, the Steelers didn't open their preseason schedule at Heinz Field this year.

Had that been the case, he would have had to accept the Joe Greene Great Performance award, given to the team's rookie of the year, in street clothes.

Instead, Simmons accepted the award at halftime of Saturday night's 21-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, a tired but happy man.

Under normal circumstances, the 15 or so plays Simmons participated in wouldn't have been enough to whet his appetite. But given what he's gone through in the past month, he's just happy to be a football player again.

"It's a big relief," said Simmons, who was diagnosed with diabetes a few days before the Steelers reported to training camp at St. Vincent College. "I'm just glad to be back out there, no matter how many reps it was."

Simmons was hospitalized because of his diabetic condition and lost 30 pounds from his 6-2, 310-pound frame. But after working the past few weeks to get his blood sugar levels back under control and regaining the weight and strength he lost, Simmons finally returned to the practice field last Monday.

Head coach Bill Cowher eased the 2002 first round draft pick back into the lineup against the Eagles, letting him play two series in the second quarter at right guard. The Steelers scored a touchdown at the conclusion of the first series Simmons played, reaching the end zone on a four-yard Jerome Bettis run. On Simmons' second series, the Steelers moved into position for a 20-yard Jeff Reed field goal at the end of the first half.

"I was more nervous the first series than anything," said Simmons, who started 14 games last season. "I was just kind of feeling my way around and then I just started playing football.

"I don't know what it was. I guess I was just wondering how my body would react being in there and how many plays it was going to be."

Simmons' return to the starting lineup will be a big shot in the arm for a Steelers offensive line that has had its share of problems this summer.

Center Jeff Hartings did not play Saturday night while resting a sore right knee that has kept him out of about half of training camp. The right tackle position is up for grabs between Oliver Ross and Todd Fordham. And then there was Simmons' condition, which forced Keydrick Vincent into the starting lineup.

Several professional athletes – including former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, former quarterback Wade Wilson and former Steelers tight end Jonathan Hayes – have had long careers despite being afflicted with diabetes. But few have been asked to carry the kind of weight Simmons must keep to be effective.

"My weight isn't the problem," said Simmons. "I'm at 305 right now and I'm staying there. Weight's not a problem. It's just a matter of getting my strength back and just getting a feel for being out there."

With any luck Simmons would like to be back in the starting lineup Thursday when the Steelers host the Dallas Cowboys in their third of four preseason games. Traditionally, Cowher has played his starters for as much as three quarters in the next-to-last preseason game, sitting them early in the preseason finale to limit the risk of injury.

Simmons is looking forward to seeing more playing time.

"I'm hoping I do (see more time), it just depends on how I feel," he said. "I'm getting better each week. The better I feel, the more I'll play."

Dale Lolley

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