Simmons looking to rebound

For three weeks last year, Kendall Simmons was back on top of the world. The Steelers' top draft pick in 2002 was enjoying a great training camp, one in which he was looking to erase the memories of a 2003 season. That was when he was diagnosed with diabetes and injured his elbow, requiring surgery.

But just as it appeared Simmons would team with left guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings to give the Steelers the best interior offensive line in the NFL, Simmons suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a light contact drill at St. Vincent College.

That ended Simmons' season after just one preseason game. It was a serious blow to his psyche.

"That's the best I felt probably ever since I left Auburn," said Simmons. "Even through my rookie year, I didn't feel that good. I worked hard. I just hit a bump in the road. I'm going to get back to that point. I can get back there, no problem."

He's was out to prove that at the Steelers' mini-camp.

Simmons said the strength in his knee is now at 85 percent and it should be completely healed when he lines up at training camp in July. Simmons was not much more than a cheerleader last season as the Steelers rolled to a 15-1 record, and there was no keeping him off the field this weekend.

"I felt like I was a part of something again," said Simmons, who slid back into his starting spot at right guard. "You'll never hear me complain about practice, because I've been out a whole year. I'm kind of excited to get back in it. I'm glad to be out there."

The Steelers need Simmons to stay out there. Veteran backup Keydrick Vincent, who started last season after Simmons went down, signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. That leaves the Steelers with little experienced depth. Chukky Okobi is more suited to play center and 11-year veteran Barrett Brooks is the only other backup with meaningful NFL experience. The Steelers selected Trai Essex and Chris Kemoeatu in the third and sixth rounds of last month's draft and also return first-year player Jim Jones. But those three are untested at the NFL level.

That's of little concern to Simmons, though. He's not planning on missing any more time.

"You wonder why things happen the way they do," he said. "But right now, I'm taking it slowly. I don't need to rush it because if I do, I'm going to end up back on the sideline again. So that's my whole thing, take time and do what I need to do to get it stronger.

"This isn't the regular season, so I'm not in any hurry. The diabetes is a second-nature thing. Right now, my whole concern is getting my knee stronger; I'm not really worrying about anything else. I know the plays; it's just trying to knock the rust off and get back in it."

Simmons said during the season last year that he felt he could have come back and played around November. But he realizes now that was just folly.

"I said that, but that was the competitor in me," Simmons said. "Really, knowing what I know now and how I feel now, I wouldn't have done the team any good out there. I'm glad I didn't rush back."

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