While working on this article, I was reminded just how long Shane Simmons has been a part of the Penn State program. Sure, he did not sign his letter of intent until February of 2016, but he committed to the Nittany Lions over 18 months earlier in July of 2014. He was the second member of the 2016 class, following Miles Sanders.
I find that an important part of just how significant his return to the lineup figures to be for the Penn State defense. Despite feeling like he has been around for years, he is just entering his redshirt sophomore season. There are plenty of elite recruits, which Simmons was out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, that make an immediate impact. But there are just as many, and probably more, that take some time to tap into their potential. Simmons had just started to find his footing towards the end of last season, only his second year on campus. An injury presumably suffered during camp in August, however, has delayed that next step for the former top-50 prospect.
Dan did a fantastic job breaking down the lack of rotation for Penn State against the Buckeyes, likely a key factor in the late game collapse as players like Yetur Gross-Matos and Shareef Miller played significant snaps with little relief. The addition of Simmons figures to ultimately give Sean Spencer one more player he can be comfortable rolling out against the Big Ten's best.
Against the Buckeyes, only four players took snaps at defensive end (Gross-Matos, Miller, Daniel Joseph, Shaka Toney), and only three (Gross-Matos, Miller, Toney) played over 25 percent of the defensive snaps in the game. With the level of competition going up significantly against Ohio State, Spencer was clearly short on players he trusted. With Simmons out, the Nittany Lions were down essentially two capable ends when you add in the August retirement of Ryan Bucholz, another player Spencer has leaned heavily on in the past.
It will be interesting to see how much action Simmons sees on Saturday in his first action since December's Fiesta Bowl victory. Through the season's first four games, Spencer rotated his line heavily, before significantly dialing back for the Ohio State loss. Michigan State has struggled to run the ball, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and quarterback Brian Lewerke has been sacked 12 times through just five games. At least on paper, this figures to be a prime opportunity to get Simmons back into game action, and not lean so heavily on just a few players.