The junior defensive line stalwart has become a focal point this season on a Buckeye defense that had to replace seven starters. In addition to the on-field production that meant the team would have to replace the leadership void left by the departures of players like Cameron Heyward, Jermale Hines, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they still had Simon. The junior was not only the returning starter on defense with the most minutes played last season – 245 – but had already become a team leader with his steady play on the defensive line. The latter fact prompted co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes to recently pay Simon a big compliment.
"I kind of compare Johnny to A.J. Hawk," Haynes said. "He's not a vocal type of guy, but everybody knows he's our leader just because of his actions. That's how A.J. was when he was here. Everybody knew he was going give 110 percent. He was all in.
"He didn't say a lot, and he didn't have to say a lot."
Like Hawk, Simon isn't exactly the most talkative Ohio State player. His actions usually say enough. Simon recorded 16 tackles as a freshman while gaining experience at defensive tackle. Last season, his first as a starter, Simon earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention after netting 41 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
The 6-2, 270-pound former five-star prospect has shown added versatility this fall, sliding into the Leo defensive end position from his usual spot on the other defensive end spot while Nathan Williams has been sidelined with a knee injury. The Leo position requires a player to not only be a good pass rusher but occasionally drop back into coverage. No matter where he has lined up, Simon has contributed. He helped seal Ohio State's 27-22 victory against Toledo on Sept. 10 by hurrying quarterback Terrance Owens on a fourth-down play in the red zone in the final minute, forcing a game-clinching incompletion.
Simon saw more time at Leo Sept. 17 at Miami (Fla.) and recorded three tackles and helped cause a second-quarter interception when he grazed the arm of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris as he threw the ball, allowing redshirt freshman cornerback Bradley Roby to haul in the affected pass.
"I'm getting very comfortable (at Leo)," Simon said. "(The Miami game) was my first game truly playing Leo, and I felt comfortable out there. … Whatever the team needs I'm going to do."
Simon has been constantly trying to improve his play since joining the Buckeyes. Prior to the season the junior said he spent extra time in the film room during the offseason trying to find little things he could improve.
"There are always things to work on," he said. "Every time I watch a play that I'm in I always see something I could do better."
No matter where Simon lines up this season, he's usually the player on the line the offensive line is looking for. He has been subjected to double teams this season, which has allowed players like Johnathan Hankins to get more favorable one-on-one matchups.
Simon was named a captain for the Colorado game, becoming the first Buckeye to act as a captain twice during the 2011 season. Haynes said Simon has been a great influence on the Ohio State roster for a long time.
"You can always count on him to do what he's supposed to do, give a lot of energy just like he does in practice," Haynes said. "Ever since he stepped foot on campus here he's been a positive influence on this team and the young guys on this defense."
Simon also makes an impact on the Ohio State offense during practice.
"He's a hard guy to block, I'll tell you that," said junior fullback Zach Boren, Simon's roommate. "He will come up firing off the ball. … He is a great competitor and a great defensive lineman. One of the best in the country."