OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — John Simpson started every game of the 2021 season for the Las Vegas Raiders. Less than a year later, he was cut.
It was understandable for the third-year offensive lineman to feel a few doubts about his future.
“I lacked confidence, and I just didn’t really know what would happen or what was going on,” he said.
Simpson wasn't without a job for long. He caught on with the Baltimore Ravens in December — with the practice squad at first — and now he's been named the team's starter at left guard. If the 26-year-old Simpson once struggled with his belief in himself, it hasn't shown lately.
“He definitely seized the job," coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s always shown himself as a confident guy. I was just proud of him, and I thought he just came to work every day and kept it simple. Made it about being the best player he could be day in and day out.”
The Raiders drafted Simpson in the fourth round in 2020 out of Clemson. After playing seven games as a rookie, he was a starter in 2021, but even after that, his role wasn't all that secure. He made only two starts last year and was waived by Las Vegas in December.
The Ravens signed him to the practice squad, and although he didn’t appear in a game for them, it was a fresh start for a player who needed one.
“I think just getting here and realizing it’s still just football, I think that helped me out a lot,” Simpson said. “A change of scenery did I think help me out a little bit.”
Baltimore returns most of its offensive line from a season ago, but the Ravens did lose guard Ben Powers to Denver via free agency. That left a significant opening on the left side of the line — and an opportunity for Simpson.
“I’m not going to say I was trying to prove anything, but I just wanted to come in with my best foot forward and just put my head down and go to work,” Simpson said. “I wasn’t trying to be arrogant or cocky and think that I ran everything or whatever. I just tried to do whatever they asked me to do, and if I didn’t do it right I tried to do it right the next time.”
Sala Aumavae-Laulu, a sixth-round draft pick this year, also was in the mix to start at left guard, giving the Ravens a couple of young options at the position.
“Anybody that’s a competitor wants to compete, and I think that gave me a little juice,” Simpson said. "I feel like it helped me throughout camp, and it gave me something to look forward to every day. Not saying that I won’t have that same mindset, but it definitely did play a part in how I competed in camp.”
Harbaugh finally announced the results of that competition after last weekend's preseason game at Tampa Bay when he said Simpson would be the starter. By then, Simpson already knew. Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris had told him.
“It was after practice one day," Simpson said. "Coach Joe D came to me and said, ‘If we play tomorrow, you’d be the starter.’ It was last week or something like that, so I learned a few days before everyone else knew.”
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