- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | When Ohio State coach Jim Tressel decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 well inside Navy territory in the fourth quarter last weekend instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal, his thinking was obvious.

The Buckeyes’ offensive line was bigger and stronger than the Midshipmen, so it should have been no problem to pick up the first down on a simple tailback dive.

But as it turns out, Navy’s front three got ample push, allowing linebacker Tyler Simmons and cornerback Kevin Edwards plenty of space to stuff Ohio State running back Dan Herron.

“As a defense, that’s kind of what we live for,” Simmons said. “You need to turn around real fast and make that stop to get the offense back out on the field. It’s definitely a thriller. It’s definitely something we look forward to and we pride ourselves on.”

Simmons’ emergence has given Navy premium depth in its linebacker corps. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green likes to rotate players to keep all parties fresh, and this year he can go six players deep at linebacker: starters Ram Vela, Ross Pospisil, Tony Haberer and Clint Sovie, with Simmons and Craig Schaefer subbing in.

“It is the most depth I think we’ve had as far as being able to rotate people,” Sovie said. “It helps out a lot. If you get tired, you can just tap your head and in comes the next guy.”

Simmons’ opportunity to impress the coaching staff arose when Green decided to move Sovie from inside linebacker, where he played his first three seasons, to the outside to take advantage of his pass-rushing ability. Sovie is one of Navy’s leaner and quicker linebackers, and he feels more comfortable on the outside.

“It fits me better as an athlete,” the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior said. “I’m not the biggest guy, and on the outside I can use my speed to run around more.”

Simmons, who played mostly on special teams last year as a sophomore, took advantage of Sovie’s move with a strong spring camp, winning the Admiral Mack Award as the most improved player. The 6-3, 228-pound junior can play both inside linebacker positions, giving Green the versatility he seeks.

“More than anything, I think it’s just the position I was put in,” Simmons said. “Clint moving to outside linebacker gave me a really good shot to get in there and get some reps during the spring.”

Green lauds Simmons for being a tireless worker, never taking a play off in practice, and being a smart, generally mistake-free player. Even though Simmons plays behind Pospisil and Haberer, Green said his play is on par with that of the two seniors. That was evident last week, when he recorded seven tackles against the Buckeyes, including the fourth-down stop.

Simmons credited Pospisil and Haberer, both multiyear contributors, for being excellent tutors. Pospisil is Navy’s defensive captain this season after starting all 13 games in 2008 and leading the team with 106 tackles. Haberer played in every game last year as well, making five starts.

“That’s one of my biggest keys,” Simmons said. “It seems like they are doing everything right. They know what they are doing, and I’m just following their lead.”

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