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May 7, 2013

Simon adapting to life with Ravens

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Simon's aware that the path that he has taken to the NFL isn't a typical one.

After all, it was just four years ago that the Youngstown, Ohio native arrived in Columbus as a 274-pound interior defensive lineman. Known for his insane work ethic in the weight room and with a motor to match it, Simon was expected to spend his career at Ohio State as a space-eater, taking up blockers for for the pass-rush specialists lined up at defensive end.

But after a freshman campaign in 2009 that saw him do just that, a couple of position changes, and one of the more storied careers in Buckeyes history, Simon now finds himself nearly 20 pounds lighter and as an outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.

"It wasn't even defensive tackle, it was nose tackle. Usually it goes the other way, you move down, but I was blessed enough to move out -- a little easier on the body," Simon said. "It's been a long road but the NFL road's just beginning. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better fit for Simon than the Ravens, who selected the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in the fourth round (129th overall) of last month's NFL Draft. With the defending Super Bowl champions known for their hybrid defense that utilizes different formations and players in different positions, Simon won't be pigeonholed into playing just one spot, which should help ease questions about where exactly the 6-foot-2, 260-pounder fits in the NFL.

"I'm trying to learn every position in the playbook," he said. "Whether it's inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, inside lineman if necessary, I'm going to do whatever it takes. Just studying that playbook and trying to make myself beneficial to the Ravens."

It was that kind of team-first attitude that led to Simon's shift to defensive end at the midway point of his college career. After spending his first two seasons at Ohio State playing inside and taking up blocks for the likes of Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward, the Cardinal Mooney product became the Buckeyes' starting 'LEO' defensive end when Nathan Williams suffered a season-ending injury in Ohio State's season opener in 2011.

Simon recorded seven sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in the pass-rush specialist position, which is similar to the role that the Ravens want to use him in.

"My whole junior year, that 'LEO' position is basically an outside linebacker," Simon said. "I felt like I was very comfortable there right off the bat, and every day I made drastic improvements."

After posting nine sacks in his senior season before missing the Buckeyes' finale against Michigan with a knee injury, questions about Simon's durability arose in the month's leading up to the draft. A shoulder injury forced him out of January's Senior Bowl after just one day of practice, and subsequent surgery held him out of the NFL Scouting Combine and pushed his pro day workout back by three weeks.

Despite his recent injury woes, Simon insists that his workout regimen will remain the same.

"I don't think I'm going to stop training hard," he said. "I think that's what made me successful in the past and and hopefully it'll continue to make me successful at the next level."

Although he slipped to the fourth round -- some thought he could go as high as the second -- Simon said that it was gratifying to be selected by an organization such as Baltimore's. As seen evident by their steady stream of success since their inception in 1996, it's not often that the Ravens waste or miss on draft picks, and their selection of Simon is further validation of the praise that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer heaped on the third-team All-American in 2012.

"They're a tough, hard-nosed team," Simon said of the Ravens. "They're a prideful organization with a lot of history for how short they've been in the NFL, and I look forward to playing for them. They're just a blue collar team and I feel like I could fit in there pretty well."

Noted for his ability as a leader during his time at Ohio State, Simon knows that his college accomplishments won't mean much to a veteran-laden team like Baltimore. That's not to say that one day he won't possibly be viewed as the "heart and soul" of the Ravens like he was for the Buckeyes, but as do all rookies, he starts his professional career at square one in the NFL.

"Leadership's something you earn. As a rookie, you're going to have to earn that respect of the team and the pride of your team and you're going to have to show them through your actions that you're serious about your work," Simon said. "Hopefully down the road I can take that role, but that team has so many great leaders, I'm just going to do whatever it takes to benefit the team."

While Simon and the Ravens seem like a match made in football heaven, there is just one thing that doesn't add up in their new partnership. A native of Northeast Ohio, Simon has been a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers- Baltimore's chief rival in the AFC North.

But thanks to his new employer, that no longer appears to be the case.

"Some of the things in the house are Pittsburgh things, but not anymore," Simon said. "We're diehard Ravens fans. No longer Steelers fans. Go Baltimore."



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