Simmons out for year

<b>LATROBE -</b> Coming off perhaps the finest quarter of his pro football career, bad luck has again befallen Kendall Simmons.<br><br> The Steelers' third-year guard was pronounced out for the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Simmons injured the knee at practice Wednesday afternoon, but Coach Bill Cowher was led to believe it was only a sprain and that Simmons would practice Thursday. But Simmons woke up Thursday with swelling in the knee and he underwent an MRI, which revealed the tear.

Simmons will undergo surgery next week after the swelling subsides.

"He's had a very good camp, arguably one of the better offensive linemen at this point," said Cowher. "It's going to be a little bit of adversity for us to deal with, but it's inevitable for every team. Part of it is overcoming that, and the thing about it is that it allows us now to recognize where we are heading into the season and to prepare ourselves accordingly."

Simmons, of course, struggled through his second pro season last year after learning he had diabetes a week before training camp. But in February he visited Dr. R. Harsha Rao, an endocrinologist at UPMC, and the two began a productive relationship.

"It made a world of difference," Simmons said at the onset of training camp. "I mean, my world turned around completely. That made a big difference."

Simmons was the star of the Steelers' first preseason game. He was called upon to pull "at least three or four times in that first series," he said, and the Steelers ran off 14 plays on the initial drive before Duce Staley fumbled at the Detroit 8.

It marked the return to health of both Simmons and the Steelers' running game, which had ranked 31st in 2003.

"I felt good, real good," Simmons with a big, hearty smile two days later.

"He's bigger, stronger, a lot more confident and he did a nice job the first time out," said line coach Russ Grimm. "He's a totally different person."

But at Wednesday's practice, in an early and brief scrimmage, Simmons slid right while engaged with a defensive lineman. The whistle blew and Simmons' momentum continued right before he went down and began pounding the ground with both fists.

Trainer John Norwig tended to Simmons, who eventually stood up and jogged off the field. While on the sideline, Simmons repeatedly tested his knee and appeared to struggle only mildly. He was then iced and remained standing on the sideline throughout the rest of the practice. No one knew at the time that his season was over.

"Unfortunately, he's worked very hard," said Cowher. "He was in a great state of mind, and he's a great kid. He's been dealt a lot of adversity over the last year. From last year up until this point, he's had to deal with the diabetes. He'll overcome it and become a stronger person because of it. He'll come back from it; there's no doubt about it."

Cowher said Keydrick Vincent would replace Simmons at right guard. Cowher was asked about the possibility of moving center Jeff Hartings to right guard, where he played with the Detroit Lions, and using Chukky Okobi at center.

"We do feel good about Keydrick but certainly that's a position Jeff's played before," Cowher said. "We'll see what our options are."

Vincent, though, was the starter at a storm-aborted afternoon practice, and has played well throughout camp and in the first preseason game.

A fourth-year pro, Vincent started nine games at left guard last season as Alan Faneca moved to left tackle to replace an injured Marvel Smith. Vincent's previous playing experience occurred at right guard.

"There's no question we have more depth at this point than we did last year, when we were dealing with Kendall and Marvel at the same time," Cowher said. "Again, we'll see what our options are, see how the development takes place here, see what other possibilities exist as we look to see what's available outside. But for the most part, the answer is going to come from within this football team, and everyone else around Kendall is going to have to pick up his game.

"It'll test the character of this football team, and I'm sure we will come through it a stronger and closer team because of it."

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