The bright spot of dreadful 2019 season for the Cincinnati Bengals was their special teams unit. Brandon Wilson led the NFL in Yards per Kick Return, Kevin Huber was top 10 in Average Net Yards per Punt and Punts inside the 20, and rookie Stanley Morgan had Pro Football Focus’ sixth-highest special teams grade.
Orchestrating all of this was long-time special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, who just recently signed an extension with the Bengals to stay on in that position. The most experienced holdover from Marvin Lewis’ previous staff, Simmons expressed desire to return to the unit that was ranked No. 1 by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric after putting pen to paper on his new deal.
Despite the success his part of the team had, the stain of 2-14 is still there. And Simmons knows his role in building the team back up is crucial.
“I’ve been a part of it. I feel very good about Zac using me as a strong resource to help whatever ideas he has and we have to make it better,” Simmons told Geoff Hobson of bengals.com. “That’s all everyone in the building is thinking about. How do we get better? Certainly we were all embarrassed by what happened this year. That has to be our obvious calling card. How do we right the ship?
“To me, it starts with myself. I have to look at myself. Too often people look at other reasons and don’t look at themselves. How can I help my guys play better? The most challenging thing about being a coach is every year is different. It’s always a group of different circumstances, a different group of players, a different group of coaches. That changes year to year.”
Change was never more prominent than it was last year. Not only did Simmons watch most of his staples on special teams get waived or cut, numerous in-season injuries provided even more turmoil to the process. Despite it all, special teams was, by and large, the reason why the Bengals stayed competitive for most of their games.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a group,” Simmons said. “I’ve got so much respect for the energy, the pride these guys took on a week-to-week basis. It’s hard. It’s hard when a team is not being successful when they’re not seeing wins week to week. The fact they never spit the bit, the fact they kept fighting no matter the record or the score, that also resonates with me.”
That much is clear by Simmons’ willingness to come back to Cincinnati instead of pursuing other opportunities. With Joe Judge leaving his post as the New England Patriots’ special teams coordinator for the head coaching job with the New York Giants, Simmons was pegged as a prime replacement for Judge on Bill Belichick’s staff.
Hell, Simmons was legitimately considered as Lewis’ replacement as Cincinnati’s head coach just last year. If he wants to move on to bigger and better things, he won’t have to look very hard.
But Simmons is sticking with orange and black for a little while longer, and the Bengals are better for it.