Buckeyes know they can rely on Simon

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Simon is genuinely flattered by the tribute, even if it pains him to hear it repeated.

When asked about the term "Tebowish," which new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer used to describe Simon during spring practice, Simon expresses his gratitude. Then he steers the conversation away from himself like he steers offensive linemen out of his rushing lanes.

Meyer hasn't coached Simon in a game and won't for another four-plus months, but the coach already places the Buckeyes senior defensive end in an exclusive group that includes Meyer's most successful player, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

"Just to be characterized with someone who has such high integrity, that means a lot to me," Simon recently told ESPN.com. "But really, I'm just coming in here every day and doing the best I can."

Is Simon a Tebow fan?

"Absolutely," he said. "He's a tremendous athlete, tremendous person. So to be compared to someone like that is a great honor. I appreciate what [Meyer] says. But I'm just coming in every day doing what I can to help. It's a team sport."

Simon's selflessness is one of many qualities that has stood out to Meyer since he took the Ohio State job. Every new coach looks for players to rely on, and Simon, who has started the past 26 games and last fall earned third-team AP All-America honors, immediately stepped forward.

At times this spring, the coaches had to pull Simon off of the practice field so the offense could get some quality work in without No. 54 blowing up every play. Not surprisingly, Simon barely played in Saturday's spring game because he didn't need to.

"He's revealed himself around here for many years," Meyer said. "This didn't just surface. I'm putting him in a category that, I've only coached one or two like him."

Tebow being one of them.

"I used the term Tebowish," Meyer said. "I've got to be careful not to do that. It should be Simonish. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment.

"He's elite, elite."

As a freshman, Simon's teammates billed him as a future All-American. He has played both line positions during his career, starting at defensive tackle in 2010 before playing mostly end last season. While Ohio State's defense didn't perform to its traditional standard in 2011, Simon did his part by supplying a a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks, more than twice as many as any other Buckeye.

At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Simon is somewhat of a tweener: small for a defensive tackle and a bit short for a defensive end. His physical measurables might not be ideal, but in almost every other category, he's off the charts. Many talk about his motor, a term often applied to former Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who as a senior went from first-team All-Big Ten to unanimous All-American and NFL first-round draft pick.

"You can't teach a motor, you can't teach intensity," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "You'll have a hard time teaching some of those unique things. He has every single one of those. But John, I think he still has a lot of ability to get better fundamentally and technique-wise. That's what’s so exciting about John. He's only scratched the surface of how good he can get with the tools he has."

Fickell lauded Simon's versatility, saying the senior could play middle linebacker if the team needed him there. While playing multiple positions should help Simon in the NFL evaluation process, Fickell hopes "we can settle him in a little bit more" at defensive end.

Simon sees areas where he can improve every time he watches film. And he watches plenty of it. He also spent the spring tutoring Ohio State's younger defensive linemen, and will do the same this summer, when the Buckeyes welcome heralded D-line recruits like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.

"He'll be here at 6 in the morning, he'll leave late at night," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "He has an unbelievable understanding of the game. He's not very vocal, but he leads by example.

"He's just somebody you can count on."

That's the type of tribute, more than "Tebowish" or "future All-American," that a guy like Simon can appreciate.