Penn State will host its annual spring scrimmage on Saturday, even if established stars like running back Saquon Barkley, tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jason Cabinda are likely to be watching from the sidelines. However, that doesn’t mean there will be less for fans to see. A slew of players likely to be competing for and ultimately assuming important roles on the team this fall will see significant action, and this week on the Penn State Blog, we’ll be looking at the Top 5.
Today, we scout talented defensive end Shane Simmons.
Eligibility: Redshirt freshman
Position: Defensive end
What he did in 2016: In games, he did nothing. But Simmons did do the one thing the coaching staff hoped he would when they redshirted him after earning the honor of being one of the most highly sought after defensive end prospects in the nation in the Class of 2016.
He got bigger.
He is listed at 240 pounds, and while that’s still undersized for a defensive end, it’s about 20 pounds up from his weight when he got to Penn State.
What he can show on Saturday: We tend to make a big deal about the Blue-White Game — a bigger deal than it really is, actually. It’s a springboard for the fall, for sure. But it’s not always a predictor of success.
That said, it has the feeling of a big game for Simmons. For starters, he’s the type of player that can really help Penn State, even if it’s merely in a situational role. He was an elite pass rusher coming out of high school, and by all accounts, he still possesses those abilities to get to the quarterback.
But, if he’s going to compete for a starting job at a defensive end spot where both of last season’s starters — Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan — are now gone, he’s going to have to show that his added size will help him stand up better against the run. Penn State is certainly going to look at his performance in the Blue White Game, against a pretty good offensive line, as an indicator of how much he has improved there.
Why is he important for 2017: Quite frankly, Penn State is going to need another end who can play every down and get to the passer with some consistency. Although he showed plenty of promise in 2016, sophomore Shareef Miller is going to have to prove he can be more consistent in that regard. After him, there isn’t a lot of proven pass rush ability from the end spot returning.
Sure, Penn State can be OK in third-and-long situations by putting Simmons and Shaka Toney, the freakishly athletic but clearly undersized redshirt freshman end who won player of the year honors on the defensive scout team in 2016, on the field to go after the quarterback. But what about a third-and-5? Simmons and Toney would be effective pass rushers in that spot, too. But opponents might be foolish not to at least consider running the ball there.
The Nittany Lions don’t want to be in a position where they have to pick and choose, settling for less strength in one area to get more in the other. Simmons seems to be the most physically ready prospect to step in and make sure they don’t have to.
How you’ll know he did his job: Young linebackers will have big games.
That’s really the bottom line with Simmons, who right now is like a home run hitter in baseball. He’ll knock in his runs and drive the ball over the fence eventually, because he can. But when he’s not, he’ll be doing the little things, like maintaining the edge and occupying blockers and preventing linemen from getting to the second level.
So, strangely, the key for Simmons probably isn’t registering a few sacks — OK, touches of the quarterback, considering this is a scrimmage. It will be standing up against the run. If he can do that, he’ll put himself in position to compete for a starting spot as the regular season nears. If not, he’s a role player — and one who will be competing with Toney for playing time, at that.
Penn State lost defensive end Garrett Sickels (pictured, trying to take down USC quarterback Sam Darnold in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2) to the NFL Draft. Can top pass rushing prospect Shane Simmons be a big part of the plan to replace him? Associated Press photo.