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Shayne Simon’s Continued Emergence Gives Pitt’s Linebacking Corps Options



Shayne Simon had to make sure to tell himself to slow down.

He wants to play fast and play perfectly even though he knows that isn’t possible, but he had to slow down against Virginia Tech nonetheless.

Not in terms of the speed and aggression of his play or the pursuit of perfection on any single snap. In terms of how fast he was talking.

As the Money linebacker in Pitt’s defense, Simon’s responsibilities don’t include barking out orders. That’s SirVocea Dennis’s job as Pitt’s resident Mike linebacker, but as Dennis exited the Virginia Tech game with an injury, it became Simon’s job.

Without Dennis, and Brandon George not dressing, Pitt’s Mike linebacker depth evaporated. Simon slid inside. He took his first snaps of the season at Mike linebacker, and he was just happy that he was able to make an impact, at the end of the day.

“Anytime you step on the field, it’s fun,” Simon said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “But definitely enjoyed playing middle, definitely enjoyed playing, just wanted to be out there and try to help the team.

“There’s definitely an extra pressure there to kind of get everybody set. But once you kinda get the hang of it, it helps. As you guys know I speak pretty fast, so I try to slow down and be really demonstrative and communicate well, but it’s definitely fun.”

Simon played 67 defensive snaps against Virginia Tech, out of a possible 82, and he played a second half in which Pitt clamped down to limit Virginia tech to just 47 rush yards in the second half. It was what Pitt needed with its heart and soul sidelined.

“Sometimes you just got to go hit someone in the mouth, you know, as a linebacker,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “And (Simon’s) just so worried about doing everything exactly right. Sometimes you just got to go play football.

“And Shayne has kind of fallen into that being the new guy and just wanting to be a pleaser. To the point where last week in our practice it was, like, ‘Shayne, start turning it loose.’ And he turned it loose and made some nice plays.”

Pittsburgh Panthers linebacker SirVocea Dennis (7) October 8, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Simon racked up a team-high nine tackles (four solo) and a quarterback hurry, but it was his work in suppressing the run game and marshaling Pitt’s defense that impressed Narduzzi. He originally thought that Pitt might be in some dire straits without Dennis, but Simon slid inside and did an outstanding job of filling the gap.

It could’ve been an ugly second half without Dennis’s leadership and ability, but Simon stepped up — mentally and physically.

Randy Bates was very impressed with Simon’s performance inside, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise either. He’s seen Simon play — and excel — at all three linebacker spots.

It opens the pathways for potential linebacking combinations in the future. The starting unit of Dennis, Simon and Bangally Kamara is secure, and the second unit of George, Solomon DeShields and Tylar Wiltz rotates heavily. But Simon’s Mike capability opens options even among the starters.

Dennis has expressed his enjoyment in lining up outside, a position he has not frequented over the last couple of years, and Simons’ progression makes it more possible than ever.

“Have you been in our staff meetings?” Narduzzi asked Monday about the potential of Dennis outside. “You may see (Dennis) on the outside. You never know. Yeah, he likes it out there, too. If you ask him, he’s like — he called it. That guy gets to make a lot of plays out there. So, it might be something you see.”

When a player like Dennis goes down, it doesn’t usually bode well for the defense as a whole. But sometimes, it can lead to players stepping up in different areas. Simon realized that the defense as a whole, but especially the linebackers, needed to step up without Dennis. He’s been learning both Mike and Money in the offseason, and he’s starting to feel comfortable.

However, he also realizes that while he strives for perfection, that’s not an attainable goal.

“I don’t think anybody likes to get anything wrong, so I try to do my best to be able — I feel I have the capacity to learn and understand,” Simon said. “If I can do it, why not do it every single day? So, when I do things wrong that’s my fault, that’s on me and I’ve gotta be able to fix that. … I try to be as good as I can.”

Simon has been an integral addition to Pitt’s defense since arriving from Notre Dame over the offseason. He’s racked up 18 tackles (nine solo), broken up five passes and recovered a fumble as the Money linebacker.

And now Pitt has options when it comes to linebacker usage. But Simon is content to just go where the coaching staff places him going forward.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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