Thinking Out Loud: Simon’s Rough Day at Senior Bowl
By Brandon Castel
John Simon just can’t seem to catch a break. First Ohio State’s two-time captain had to miss his senior day against Michigan because of a knee injury, and now it sounds like he is struggling to adjust to a new position at the Senior Bowl.
Why Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen and the rest of the North staff would want to make Simon a linebacker for this game is beyond me. I can only assume Simon was told this might be a good way to show off his versatility for the NFL scouts who will be watching closely as Simon and the other seniors take the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium down in Mobile, Ala.
It sounds like a great idea, this whole idea of making Simon more attractive to NFL teams by showing he can adjust to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4. After all, there are 10-12 teams out of the 32 in the NFL who are running a 3-4 defense, and a lot of those outside linebackers are asked to take on roles similar to a defensive end in a 4-3.
They are also asked to take on other roles, like the ones that kept former Buckeye Vernon Gholston from making a similar adjustment to the NFL when he was drafted sixth overall by the New York Jets in the 2008 draft.
Like Simon, Gholston was a guy who seemed to be at his best with one hand in the dirt while he was chasing down quarterbacks from his defensive end position. Both Simon and Gholston played Ohio State’s hybrid drop-end position, called the Leo or Viper, while they were in Columbus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the right skill set to play outside linebacker at the next level.
“It was a rough day for Ohio State linebacker John Simon, who looked like a fish out of water attempting to cover running backs and tight ends one-on-one in man coverage,” NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Dane Brugler wrote for CBS Sports.
“He often found himself turned around, lacking the natural hip movement or footwork to quickly adjust and blanket his man.”
Blanket his man? That’s sounds more like a job for Bradley Roby or even Ryan Shazier. I covered John Simon in every game he played during his four years at Ohio State and I can’t ever recall a single time where he was asked to “blanket” anyone, let along a time where he actually showed he could.
Simon measured in at just over 6-1 and 256 down in Mobile, where he will play in the Senior Bowl on January, 26 (4 p.m. ET, NFL Network). He was listed at 6-2, 263 as a senior with the Buckeyes. Either way, that’s awfully small for an NFL defensive lineman, even a defensive end in a 4-3 defense.
But Simon is a diligent worker and a weight room freak. He was much thicker and looked a lot more like an interior lineman when he got to Ohio State, but the Buckeyes quickly realized his best skills usually involved getting after the quarterback.
They needed someone on the edge who could rush the passer, so Simon slid out to strongside defensive and eventually become the team’s primary rush end when Nathan Williams went down with a knee injury early in the 2011 season.
Simon worked hard to slim down so he could be a faster version of himself at defensive end, but 256 pounds simply isn’t going to cut it at the next level. Allen and others like him are wasting their time, not to mention Simon’s talents, trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
Maybe he can work hard enough to become an adequate pass rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he doesn’t strike me as a guy who will ever be an every down player in the NFL as a linebacker.
“As a college defensive lineman, it's unfair to judge him based on the first practice,” Brugler wrote after Monday’s practice.
“But it's obvious Simon will need a lot of coaching if he wants to stay at linebacker.”
Because he’s not a linebacker. He’s a guy who had 20.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss the last four seasons as a down lineman. He’s a guy who probably needs to add 20 pounds of mass so he can get away from playing linebacker and go back to doing what he does best.
On his best day, Simon reminded me of a poor man’s Jared Allen. He’s probably never going to be Allen, a 6-6, 270-pound end for the Minnesota Vikings who had 22 sacks a year ago, but Simon has that same type of nonstop, relentless motor.
“Simon has a motor that never quits, playing extremely relentless as one of the best attacking defenders in college football the past few years,” Brugler wrote in his draft analysis of Simon on CBSSports.com.
“He has a strong upper body to swat and use his limbs to beat blocks with the natural power and forceful playing style to keep blockers off balance and shed. Simon plays every snap as if it's his last and doesn't know how to go half speed, playing motivated and focused. He is a smart, heady player to make impact plays against the run and pass, getting his hands up at the line of scrimmage.”
Brugler also listed Simon’s nonstop energy as a weakness, saying he often wears himself out due to his relentless attitude. That’s a weakness most NFL teams can live with.
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