Steelers first-round pick in camp after inking deal |
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Jerry DiPaola

Count Steelers scout Dan Rooney Jr. among those who were pleased that their top draft choice’s holdout lasted only one day.

“I didn’t want to miss too many of his battles (at practice),” Rooney said. “They will be interesting.”

Kendall Simmons, a pensive artist off the field and a nasty mauler on it, arrived at training camp Thursday morning after signing a six-year contract that includes a signing bonus of nearly $3.3 million.

The deal, crafted by his agent Eric Metz of Monroeville and Steelers chief negotiator Omar Khan, will pay Simmons, a guard from Auburn, a little more than $6 million in the first five years. Neither side has any intention of seeing the contract reach its sixth season — it will be renegotiated long before that, or Simmons will be long gone — but the extended term gives the Steelers a favorable pro-ration on the signing bonus and minimal trauma against the salary cap.

Most important, he was late by only one day and participated in coach Bill Cowher’s grueling running drills, a series of 14 40-yard dashes. He injured a hamstring slightly while running, but he vowed not to let it keep him from practice today.

“I’m not going to miss any time,” he said. “I told them I was going to be here, and I’m here.”

With that, the Steelers’ offensive line just got a little nastier.

“He played that way on film,” said offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who is eager to see Simmons work in pads. “We’ll see what happens.”

If Simmons, 6-foot-2, 312 pounds, can duplicate the performance he put on for pro scouts last March, he will open Grimm’s eyes and anyone else watching and make a serious bid for the starting job at right guard.

Rooney was there on the campus of Auburn when Simmons and two other offensive linemen — all pro prospects — were working out in advance of the draft.

“He just mauled his two teammates,” Rooney said. “Just the effort, the intensity and the strength, you could just tell. In my report, the first line was, ‘This is a Steeler.’

“I always kind of look for that when I’m scouting. That certain mentality that we have around here. We make sure that those guys have a nasty streak.

“He doesn’t like to bring a lot of attention to himself, but he’s a warrior.”

Rooney and Grimm watched Simmons on film several times, including a game against North Carolina when he dominated defensive end Julius Peppers, the second overall pick in the draft.

“But the workout just topped it off for me,” Rooney said. “He’s coming to play every single snap.”

At one point during the workout, Simmons knocked his opponent down with just one punch to the chest. Another time, he grabbed the defender and “just ripped his shirt right off,” Rooney said.

“I don’t know if the kid was expecting to be manhandled like that. He’s a fun guy to watch,” Rooney said.

Simmons didn’t apologize for tearing his teammates’ shirt.

“It was a situation where you had to kind of show what you had,” he said. “We are buddies. We’ve always been cool ever since we came in together in our freshman year. But we were both trying to prove a point.

“I would (do the same thing) right now, if I could. I know he would do the same thing to me. It’s all part of the game.”

Simmons, who was married July 13 to Celesta Henry and already has moved into a house in Wexford, is a talented artist who plans a visit to The Andy Warhol Museum when he returns to Pittsburgh from training camp. His favorite artist, Winslow Homer, comes from the 19th century, and Simmons is a bit of a throwback himself. He fixes his own cars, has helped his father in the construction business and — as Rooney discovered — doesn’t mind brawling with his friends.

“I guess you could say I’m a completely different person when I put that helmet on,” Simmons said. “I like laughing and smiling, but I have to flip that switch when it’s time to play. I don’t have any problem getting greasy.”

  • Notes: Quarterback Charlie Batch (knee) and tight end Mark Bruener (foot) did not participate in the run test yesterday. They were placed on the physically unable to perform list, but they did work out on the side. Both players are urging trainers to allow them to practice today when full-fledged drills begin. “We’ll see how they are in the morning,” Cowher said. “I don’t want to take them off (the list), if they’re not ready to go.” … Rookie linebacker Pernell Griffin strained his hamstring, didn’t finish the run and was placed on the PUP list. … Cornerback Nijrel Eason suffered leg cramps and didn’t finish the test, but he is expected to practice. … Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who had ankle surgery in the offseason, struggled to finish, but drew long applause from his teammates when he came across the finish line on the final sprint. Cowher acknowledged that surgery limited Hampton’s offseason regimen, but he said, “He’s going to have to get himself going.” … Among the leaders were defensive ends Chris Combs and Brett Keisel, strong safety Lee Flowers, quarterback Kordell Stewart and running back Jerome Bettis, who finished with a high-step at the end. “You can’t break this horse,” Flowers shouted while he was running. … Simmons noted that the run tests at Auburn were more demanding. “At Auburn, we’d probably still be out there,” he said. … The afternoon practice begins at 3:30 p.m. today and is open to the public.

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