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March 11, 2009

Simmons returns to defensive line

"Whatever the team needs."

Those words are common among Trojan players, and for the most part, they're spoken with sincerity.

Every so often, though, a player gets a chance to show that kind of selflessness. Derek Simmons had that chance last season.

Abandoning his passion for playing on the defensive side of the ball, Simmons spent most of 2008 on the offensive line as a backup.

But with a new defensive line coach on campus, Simmons saw an opportunity to maybe move back home.

"I'm back to the dark side," he said,

Simmons moved back to defensive tackle, taking reps at the position during a players-only practice on Tuesday.

"It's been on my mind for a while," Simmons said. "I talked to (defensive line coach Jethro Franklin) about it last week, and I asked him about it and saw what he thought he about it. He ran it by (Pete Carroll), and I guess they thought it was a good idea."

While the position change isn't necessarily permanent, Simmons said he doubts that he'll move back to the offensive line.

"Nothing really matters until game day. Nothing is set. The best guy is going to play," he said. "There's nothing guaranteed. It's there for the taking for all of us. We all have equal opportunity."

With Armond Armstead moving from defensive tackle to defensive end, it appears Simmons will be competing with Averell Spicer and DaJohn Harris for playing time this spring.

"He moved to strongside defensive end, and I knew it'd be a great opportunity to show them what I can to do, to remind them why they recruited me on the defensive side of the ball," Simmons said. "That was part of the decision, too."

Simmons said he thinks he'll be a more cerebral player after working with the offensive line for most of last season.

"I learned a lot more about the offense, and that can only help me on defense," Simmons said. "I learned a lot about technique and what to expect out of certain formations. Working out with the offensive linemen, I got a lot stronger.

"I'm taking the positive out of it. I think it was a great experience."

And now that Simmons is back where he thinks he belongs, he's anxious to get on the field. If it happens at defensive tackle, it'll be great. If it happens at somewhere else, he's willing to do whatever the team needs.

"I'd just rather play, either way. I'd prefer it be on defense, but if the team needed me to start on offense, I'd do whatever the team needed to win," he said. "It wasn't really the depth chart; I'm just a defensive player at heart."



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