Free safeties are known for playing deep downfield as a last line of defense against the long pass. So it is uncommon that a free safety would lead a football team in tackles for a loss.
Jason Simpson is no common player.
Simpson, a senior on the Missouri football team, is listed as a free safety, but frequently moved up closer to the line when the defense ran the nickel package last season.
He said his hard-nosed style of play and boisterous commentary to opposing offenses helped him tally a team leading 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“I have to make up for what size I don’t have with aggression and smarts,” Simpson said. “That fiery nature helps me out when I’m up on the line.”
When he came to Missouri from The Woodlands High School in Texas in 2001, he was 185 pounds – hardly an intimidating presence to quarterbacks or running backs in the backfield or to a receiver looking to make a catch over the middle.
Simpson said after adopting a strict weightlifting routine, he bulked up to 205 pounds while maintaining the 4.4 40-yard-dash speed he developed on the track in high school.
Even at 205 pounds, Simpson is often much smaller than his offensive foes, and he said he does anything he can to get into their head.
“I like to talk to the offense when I’m out there because whoever lines up against me is my enemy for that play,” he said. “For me it’s all about being out there and letting people know where I am and what I want to do to them,
“I’ll say whatever I feel, like ‘Why you even try to run that play to me? You know you’re not gonna get anywhere.’ Stuff like that.”
Simpson said his environment growing up was a big factor in developing vocal style of play.
“My family is known to talk a lot and be very active and outgoing,” he said. “We are a super competitive family. I guess the competition is kind of ingrained in our DNA.”
Simpson is also making a name for himself as a punishing tackler. His hit on Sean Coffey during a March 31 practice ended the receiver’s spring early.
“I think of it as game day every day in practice or during a scrimmage.”
Simpson’s next challenge will be to emotionally and vocally lead a young and inexperienced defense. Last season’s defense, which ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 Conference in yards allowed, lost eight starters. Simpson’s 29 career starts make him the most experienced player on defense by 11 starts – a full season.
Coach Gary Pinkel said he thinks Simpson will have no problem taking on a leadership role.
“He’s a great leader,” said. “I’ll tell you, he’s by far the best verbal leader we’ve ever had since we’ve been here.
“We now have a guy that you point to and say, ‘That’s what you want to be like.’ That’s the visual aid for what a leader is on a football team, especially on the defensive side.”
Simpson said he thinks he can bring a lot to the defense as a leader.
“We need more energy out there.” he said. “We need more people being vocal. It seems like we’re dead at times, but I think that happens on every team.”
Simpson said the biggest challenge he has faced at Missouri is trying to mold himself into a productive leader.
“I’ve always been a really independent, self-motivated person and I’ve always felt like other people should be that way too,” he said. “I think, ‘Why do you need somebody to motivate you.’ I’m just trying to step outside myself to help the team.”
Simpson said he has grown out of his old leadership technique of yelling at teammates after they mess up.
“I tried that and it didn’t work,” Simpson said. “Now I’m trying to be more patient and help people instead of just harass them.”
Pinkel said he has noticed Simpson’s development.
“Jason matured, and that’s the best way of saying it,” he said. “He’s a great competitor. He’s got a lot of fire, and I love his personality.”
“He was having some issues with us and he said, ‘Coach, do you want me to be like you? I’m not,’ Pinkel said.
Pinkel told him “I don’t want you to be like me. I just want a responsible Jason Simpson with your fire, with your enthusiasm, with your excitement.”