"We're going to have a great defense," Simmons said without hesitation. "We've had a great summer and everybody is looking good. I expect nothing less than a great defense."
Simmons admitted he has been in a critical leadership role, and his coach agrees.
"I met with him in January and that was when it started," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer said. "I told him Caleb (Lavey) and Shaun (Lewis) were gone and this was his defense. He needed to be a leader and I knew he would not let me down in that area.
"Ryan has got that intangible quality about him. He had it in high school too. Ryan Simmons isn't afraid to lose a friend in the locker room because he expects to play great defense."
It was easy to see while watching several of the summer workouts that Simmons pours himself into leading all the youngsters at linebacker. There are a few experienced players like Demarcus Sherod, but most of the linebackers are green, green as true freshmen.
"He did in the offseason, and he did in the spring.," Spencer added of Simmons' leadership. "He's done it the last couple of months out there on the field. It's the same deal. Ryan has played a lot, and he's got expectations of practicing at a high level. He has even ruffled some feathers, and I love that. We've got to have guys like that. Ryan has been a champion as far as that goes."
Simmons feels like he has seen a champion too. Junior college All-American Devante Averette made a strong impression in spring practice, challenging for a starting role at weak side linebacker before tearing his ACL in a scrimmage. Suspected to be a sprain at first, Averette later had surgery, but Simmons said he is back out at workouts and says he will play this season.
Gundy confirmed he is out there but far from being cleared to play. Spencer was even more caution when speaking today at Karstern Creek after the hot and humid golf day for the media and football staff.
"He's running straight but he has to be cleared and we can't count on that, and remember he has never played at this level before," Spencer added before addressing the depth issues.
"There are things you can't control, but you can't worry about it. It's the truth. When we start up next Thursday, those guys that jog out there, get ready practice and do the drills right will be the guys that we're working with. Those guys will be the ones that we expect to do things right and make things happen."
Spencer isn't backing down from having a good defense, in fact, he busted a local reporter for predicting the Cowboys defense would be back to where they used to be after last season's strong performance.
More important than Spencer not backing down is Ryan Simmons not backing down, and even if it is a longshot Devante Averette crushing his rehab work. It all adds up.