WESTFIELD, Ind. – Remember John Simon? He appeared to be the square-peg guy the Indianapolis Colts were trying to pound into a round hole.
He seems to be a good fit after all.
Surprise, surprise? Not really.
An outside linebacker during his five NFL seasons, Simon kept his head down and his focus sharp after the Colts moved him to end in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ new 4-3 defensive scheme. He routinely dismissed any concern he might be undersized – 6-2, 260 pounds – to hold up against much bigger offensive tackles.
“I just want to be on the field helping the guys out,” Simon said. “They told me right before OTAs they wanted me at defensive end and I try to be the best team player I can be.
“If that’s where you want me then that’s where I’ll be. All I’ve ever known in my career is just come in and work hard and do whatever I can to help.”
The last time Simon played end was at Ohio State.
“A little bit of standup,” he said, “but it was still probably defensive end. It wasn’t quite a true 4-3, but yeah, you would consider it a defensive end, yes.”
End? Outside ‘backer? Regardless the position, what matters is production. Before suffering a shoulder injury Oct. 22 against Jacksonville, Simon was arguably the Colts’ best defender. In the first six games, he generated 37 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception he returned 26 yards for a touchdown at Tennessee.
After making the switch to end during the OTAs, Simon occasionally was overwhelmed at the point of attack. Remember, often he was a 260-pound end going up against 330-pound Austin Howard or 345-pound Denzelle Good.
But as soon as the non-contact OTAs gave way to training camp and pads were pulled on, Simon’s presence was more evident. In the preseason opener at Seattle, he was credited with 3 tackles and 1.5 sacks. One of the sacks was vintage, relentless Simon: he never gave up on the play and finally got to backup quarterback Austin Davis.
Coach Frank Reich has noticed the uptick in Simon’s game.
“We talk about that all the time,” he said. “The pads get on and you have to finish plays. That’s what I have seen from him. When you’re in OTAs and you don’t have the pads on, there is touching off and there’s running by the quarterback.
“I think what you’ve seen with John in practice and in the preseason game that we played is that he just knows how to finish. That’s important. So, good for him.”
Simon made it clear he much prefers padded, contact football to the offseason variety. That’s football.
“I think pads definitely help me with my style of play,” he said. “I try to be a physical presence out there and any time I’m able to do that I think I’m more productive on the field.”
Reich, Eberflus and general manager Chris Ballard are building defense that stresses speed and athleticism. But they also want a more physical unit that won’t be pushed around up front.
It’s uncertain whether Simon will emerge as Jabaal Sheard’s bookend starter at end, and that probably doesn’t matter. Eberflus’ objective is to utilize a rotational system with seven or eight linemen and wear down offensive lines.
Somehow, Simon needs to be a prominent part of that rotation.
“He brings toughness. He brings savvy,” Reich said. “It’s like the more intense things get, the better he gets. When we go live periods, when things really ramp up, when we play the preseason game, he just seems to get better and better.
“He’s having a great camp. He’s a smart, savvy, vet. It’s hard to put a price on that.”