The winner of the Baltimore Ravens starting left guard battle for the past two seasons has been decided by two factors: consistency and seizing the opportunity when it presented itself.
Following in the same path as 2019 fourth-rounder Ben Powers, fourth-year pro John Simpson did the same this year when he beat out sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu.
“[Simpson] definitely seized the job,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I was just proud of him, and I thought he just came to work every day and kept it simple. [He] made it about being the best player he could be day in and day out. He took coaching really well, and obviously, he’s a very talented player.”
The former fourth-round interior offensive lineman of the Las Vegas Raiders admitted that after he was released by the team that drafted him, he lacked confidence in himself but Harbaugh was surprised to hear those comments based on his he performed and competed.
“He’s always shown himself as a confident guy,” Harbaugh said. “If he’s playing with confidence now, I’m all for it. Hearing that is a good thing.”
Simpson had started 21 of his first 35 career games in the league including all 17 and a playoff game in 2021 before being released by the Raiders last December and signing to the Ravens’ practice squad a few weeks later.
To go from being essentially an afterthought in the eyes of countless fans and most media pundits when he first joined the team to now being an opening-day starter is a scenario that the 26-year-old didn’t see coming.
“It meant a lot to me for them to trust me in that position and just getting that news – it meant a whole lot,” Simpson said.
While Harbaugh didn’t formally declare him as the winner of the left guard battle until after the Ravens’ preseason finale this past Saturday, Simpson got the good news before it was officially announced to the rest of the world.
“It was after practice one day. [Offensive line] Coach Joe D [D’Alessandris] came to me and said, ‘If we play tomorrow, you’d be the starter,’” Simpson said. “It was last week or something like that, so I learned a few days before everyone else knew.”
It wasn’t until a few weeks into training camp that it seemed like Simpson was beginning to separate himself in what was a very tight competition dating back to the offseason program when Aumavae-Laulu first began running with the first-team offense and continued to do so at the start of camp. That fierce competition helped bring the best out of Simpson and pushed him to dig deeper and perform at a consistently high level.
Three blocks that make the case for John Simpson as LG1.— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) August 22, 2023
1. Makes initial pass block, then recognizes looper
2. Finds a on Zay Flowers' touchdown
3. Gets enough on reach block to help spring Justice Hill
He's graded out as one of PFF's top interior linemen in the preseason. pic.twitter.com/0B0nYRoHLT
Simpson isn’t resting on his laurels now that he has been named the starter and has shifted his focus to further honing his craft and limiting mistakes that will inevitably happen.
“Just getting better one day at a time just changed my mindset and my confidence a little bit,” Simpson said. “Mistakes are going to happen. I know that. [I] just try to overcome them and just go to the next play or whatever’s next, just try to go through that.”