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Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead talks Jeffery Simmons with MCM

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NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi State vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I had the opportunity to speak with Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead. Moorhead coached Titans first round pick Jeffery Simmons last season. He was able to give me a deep dive on the type of player and person Simmons is.

In this interview with Music City Miracles, Moorhead spoke with me regarding Simmons’ work ethic, his personality off the field, his skill set on the field and a whole lot more. This piece offers a rare insight into Jeffery Simmons, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

JM: Thanks for taking some time out for me today coach. You took on the Mississippi State job last season. I know you only spent a year with Jeffery Simmons, but how quickly did you realize that he was special?

CJM: Very quickly. To me, Jeff personifies everything that is great about collegiate athletes. He was an unbelievable student athlete. He was a great leader both on and off the field. He was a leader in the classroom as well. He set the example in the weight room. I could tell very quickly that he was a special young man.

JM: What projection do you ultimately see for his pro career if he stays healthy?

CJM: I think he’s going to play at a high level in the NFL for a very long time. I see no reason why he can’t be a perennial Pro Bowl caliber player. He’s a guy that has all of the intangibles to be great. He has the size, speed, strength and athleticism to be truly special. He has a great work ethic as well. He takes the preparation part of the game very seriously. I think he’s going to have a long and prosperous career in the NFL.

JM: You touched a bit on his traits there but I want to speak to them in length, specifically as a pass rusher. I particularly noticed his swim move and bull rush on tape, but you were the one with a front row seat. What sticks out to you about him as a pass rusher?

CJM: I think he has a great arsenal of pass rush moves at his disposal. In my opinion, everything comes off of the bull rush though. He uses it to set up everything else. A man of his size who has that power but also has that quick twitch and ability to fire off the ball, I think he’s able to re-establish the line of scrimmage whether he’s singled up against a guard or center. He’s able to knock that guy back and all of his counter moves come off the bull rush.

JM: Between yourself and your staff, how do you teach hand technique to a guy with that much raw power and snap anticipation?

CJM: Coach [Brian] Baker was our defensive line coach last season. He’s since moved on to Alabama. He did some great work with our guys. With any defensive linemen, whether they’re on the edge or an inside guy, the ability to use your hands is incredibly important because of how good these collegiate offensive linemen are in pass protection nowadays. You can’t allow them to use their length against you. You have to knock their hands down and win the hand fight. That’s how you propel yourself into the backfield. Winning that individual battle is something we focus on every day.

JM: The injury to Simmons was a shame in general, but I hated that it robbed us from watching him perform at the combine. I feel like he would have performed at an extremely high level. Which drills do you think he would have excelled in?

CJM: He did the bench press and he was phenomenal there. I think the thing that sets Jeffery apart from a lot of other prospects who play the same position is his speed and his athleticism. I think his 40 yard dash and short shuttle times would have been excellent for his size. He’s an explosive player so I think the broad and vertical jumps would have been great for him as well. He excels in anything that measures speed, power and athleticism. I think he would have been at, or near the top in each of those drills for his position group.

JM: Do you think he could have ran the 40 in under five seconds?

CJM: It would have been close. I think it would have been somewhere between the 4.95 and 5.10 range. I think he would have been right in that high 4.9 range.

JM: What were his practice habits like?

CJM: Phenomenal. He was a quiet leader but he was vocal when necessary. He’s a guy that understands the process. He understands how to prepare during the week. He worked hard Monday through Friday to ensure he would make an impact on Saturday for us. With us having the top ranked defense in the SEC and in the country, it all starts with preparation. Great defense is a mentality and it’s dictated by the defensive line. It certainly started with Jeffery and Montez Sweat for us.

JM: Having coached him for a year, would you describe him as someone who takes well to coaching? Mike Vrabel will be very hands on with him.

CJM: Jeffery is extremely coachable. He’s 100% the coachable type. Anytime that a young man has the kind of talent he has, it would be easy to put it in cruise control and let your talent take over. Anything that coach Baker or anyone on my staff preached to him to make him a better player, whether it was individual technique or something within our scheme, Jeffery was always extremely receptive to anything that we thought could make him a better player.

JM: Did the Titans reach out to you during the pre-draft process?

CJM: Their defensive line coach Terrell Williams and I worked together for some time at Akron. That was a long, long time ago (laughs). Their scouts were certainly in and out of our building. Every team does their due diligence. Just about every team in the NFL spoke to us about Jeffery.

JM: Whether it was coach Williams or someone else, what were they most interested in talking about?

CJM: Every team would ask the same sort of stuff. They wanted to know about his practice habits, what he’s like in the weight room, how he does in the classroom and so on. All of those things that can tell you a lot about his personality. They were obviously asking about the off-field incident that occurred prior to his arrival here. They were checking off all of the boxes. I understand that when you’re looking at making that type of investment into any player. With a first round pick, you have to make sure you’re drafting the right type of person. Jeffery is that person.

JM: Regarding that off-field incident, I’m curious if you arrived at Mississippi State with any preconceived notions of him. If so, did he change your mind by the end of the season?

CJM: Honestly, I didn’t even find out about that incident until I was already four or five months into my tenure here as head coach. Someone walked into my office and told me about it. I saw it. If I had not known or seen it, I would never have guessed that. Certainly everything that Jeffery did in my time with him was a great example of how a student athlete should carry himself.

JM: Were you surprised the Titans selected him in the first round considering the injury?

CJM: No, I wasn’t surprised. A lot of people had him ranked as a top five player in this entire class. I told people that I would have been shocked if he slipped out of the first round. I knew he was going to go somewhere in the first round. It was just a matter of which team was smart enough to pull the trigger.

JM: You’re not a doctor, but do you think he can get onto the field at some point this season?

CJM: I certainly am not a doctor (laughs). The one thing I can say for certain is that he’s going to attack his rehab. It’s been going well for him so far. If there’s anyone that can do it, it’s him. ACL injuries in this day and age aren’t what they used to be. It’s changed a lot from 10-15 years ago. Guys are coming back at a quicker pace. If there’s anyone that can do it, it’s Jeffery.

JM: What sticks out to you the most about the type of person he is?

CJM: We would have several community service opportunities throughout the year and Jeffery always put his hand up. You ask guys if they want to do it but Jeffery would volunteer. You didn’t have to ask him. Whether it was going to a hospital or reading to a kid in school, anything we could do to create a positive atmosphere in our community, Jeffery was always right there. He wanted to be apart of anything that could benefit the less fortunate. That speaks a lot to his character and what he learned from his incident prior to coming here. He wanted to become a better person because of it.

JM: There’s no doubt about that. This has been great coach, I’ve really appreciated your time tonight. In closing, how can he still improve as a player?

CJM: I think if there’s any conference that can prepare you for the grind of the NFL, it’s the SEC. I think transitioning from being a collegiate student athlete to a professional NFL player, the main differences are the length of camp, the length of the season, the physicality and the daily grind of it all. I know Jeffery will be mentally and physically ready for all of that, but going against the best of the best on a weekly basis is certainly a transition for every student athlete. I know he’s going to attack every challenge that comes his way. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold.