The Seahawks claimed Simmons on waivers two days after he played in an exhibition game against them with the Raiders.
The Seahawks aren’t just making evaluations on their own players during the exhibition season.
What is turning out to be one of the team’s biggest personnel coups this year — claiming guard Jordan Simmons off waivers from the Raiders the day after teams had to cut their rosters to 53 — was determined in part by the way Simmons played against the Seahawks in the final exhibition game just a few days prior.
Simmons started at right guard for the Raiders in the seemingly meaningless game, on the field for 48 of 59 snaps. The Raiders waived him barely 36 hours later, hoping they could again sneak him onto their practice squad, as they had done the year before.
But the Seahawks, who stood 18th in the waiver claiming order, swooped in, waiving former third-round pick Rees Odhiambo to make room for Simmons.
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And after spending the first two months of the season mostly inactive or on special teams, Simmons has gotten two starts in the past five games at right guard in place of injured veteran D.J. Fluker, including Monday night against the Vikings.
Those two games have also been Seattle’s top two rushing efforts of the season, the Seahawks averaging 243.5 yards against the Rams and Vikings.
“We are excited about him,’’ said offensive line coach Mike Solari.
In fact, Simmons has played so well that he suddenly looms as a significant part of the team’s long-range plans, possibly impacting decisions the team has to make after the season on potential free-agent veterans Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, each on one-year deals. Simmons will be an exclusive-rights free agent after the season and easily retainable by Seattle.
Regardless, what’s clear is that Simmons has a future with the Seahawks, one that feels as bright now as his football prospects once seemed dark. Simmons said this week he briefly considered quitting the sport midway through an injury-plagued career at USC in which he started just two games.
It’s a pockmarked road to the NFL that he’s happy to talk about now that he has come out the other side.
But his lack of playing time in college also made every snap he got in NFL exhibition games that much more pivotal.
“I thought I didn’t have that good of a game personally,’’ Simmons said this week with a little laugh when asked how he played against Seattle in that final exhibition game. “But they know more than I do as far as schemes and stuff.’’
There was more to Seattle’s decision to take a chance on Simmons than that, of course.
The Seahawks have obvious close ties to USC — Simmons recalls meeting Pete Carroll at a camp there while in the ninth grade.
And according to Simmons, the Seahawks were one of the teams to show the most interest in him after his promising showing at USC’s Pro Day in 2017. Intriguingly, the then-Raiders assistant who reportedly convinced Oakland to sign him as an undrafted free agent was former Seahawks tight end Mike Tice.
But how Simmons played in the exhibition season helped seal the deal.
“The credit goes to (Seahawks general manager) John (Schneider) and Pete,’’ Solari said. “They really liked what he did in the preseason games with Oakland and really liked his foundational strength, his ability to move at the line of scrimmage. That’s an important part of our offense.’’
Indeed, it didn’t take a real keen scouting eye to see that Simmons looked the part, listed at 6-foot-4, 339 pounds.
But much else about Simmons was a mystery when he entered the NFL.
While he was a big-time prospect out of Crespi High in Encino, Calif. — almost anyone who signs with USC is — he had about as star-crossed a college career as possible.
Due to a variety of injuries, and a position switch from offense to defense, he started just two games in five years. He applied for a sixth year of eligibility for the 2017 season but was denied.
Simmons says the denial came because he had played in four snaps on the field goal/PAT team in the Holiday Bowl in 2014 — the only game he played the entire season (he had already used his redshirt season as a true freshman in 2012).
He missed most of the 2014 season while still recovering from a knee injury suffered in practice the previous year in somewhat bizarre fashion — he was hurt during a light practice in a noncontact drill when the linemen were playing cornerback and receiver against each other.
Simmons (who tore his ACL when trying to plant while covering a fellow lineman) was hurt after having just been told he was likely to start the game that Saturday. He ultimately had reconstructive knee surgery and two more minor follow-ups before the knee was finally healed.
In 2015, then-USC coach Steve Sarkisian — who would be fired that October — moved him to defensive line due to injuries on that side of the ball.
At that point, Simmons said he was ready to give it up.
“The time I switched to D-tackle, it just wasn’t working out for me, and I was out of it mentally,” Simmons said. “I didn’t really want to do it. I didn’t want to continue with football. I was thinking about quitting football. There were days of, ‘I’m over this, I did my best, it is what it is.’ ”
Asked why he didn’t, Simmons said, “I thought I owed it to myself to see how far I could go. And if that was just getting to a camp tryout, I’d be happy with that. I just kept my faith and took it day by day. That’s about it.”
Back to playing offense, he finally stayed healthy in 2016 as a senior and started two games while playing in all 13, then impressed at USC’s Pro Day the following March in front of Carroll and other Seattle coaches and execs (a report at the time from DraftAnalyst.com called Simmons “the big surprise’’ of the day for what he showed both in testing and on-field workouts).
While being waived by the Raiders was momentarily a disappointment, Simmons said he was happy when he learned he was headed to Seattle to play for Carroll.
After Fluker was sidelined with a calf injury, Simmons got his first NFL start on the field where he spent five years at USC — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — even if he rarely stepped between the lines on game day. In front of dozens of family and friends he helped lead Seattle to a season-high 273 rushing yards in a tight loss to the Rams and their powerful defensive line featuring Aaron Donald.
The Vikings game subsequently showed that Simmons’ first performance against the Rams had not been a fluke.
“I had dark days in college, and never thought I’d see the opportunity to start (an NFL) game,’’ Simmons said.
The goal now is for Simmons to show some staying power.
Carroll seems confident he will.
“He was a really well-balanced athlete and he was really big — he’s a big, strong guy that moved well,’’ Carroll said of what attracted the Seahawks to him. “We had good information on him coming from USC and felt like we had enough knowledge to give him a shot. Really at the point, he’s just kind of getting a shot — we hope he can come through. And he has.”