BSB Notebook: Simon Playing Many Roles

Johnny Simon is not just stuffing the stat sheet this season. He is playing just about every position on the defensive line. We talked to Jim Heacock about his decision to move Simon around, and we take a look at the potential replacement at right tackle and the ups and downs of a Buckeye defensive player in this week's notebook.

If you watch an Ohio State football game, expect to see Johnny Simon's No. 54 around the ball a lot. Just don't look for him every play in the same spot.

The junior is performing an ever-expanding role this season as defensive coordinator Jim Heacock works on finding the best ways to use his best players.

Simon began the season as a 6-technique defensive end with plans to move inside on passing downs, but alterations were necessitated upon the loss of Nathan Williams, the other defensive end, to a knee injury in the first week of the season. That put Simon at Williams' Leo position, requiring him to drop into coverage at times and putting pressure on him to be the team's primary pass rusher.

He has responded with a team-high six sacks among his 12.5 tackles for loss, and Heacock has given him even more responsibility. For the past month or so, Simon has also seen time as the "Viper" in Ohio State's dime defense. That position, filled in the past by such players as Williams, Thaddeus Gibson, Bobby Carpenter, Vernon Gholston and Will Smith, is even more like a linebacker than the Leo end spot and allows Simon freedom to move around the formation but also requires him to play in space more often.

"We'll have him at the viper spot as long as I think he's making plays and doing some good things," Heacock told "If it looks like they're doubling him or chipping him with a running back or he's getting beat up out there because they know where he's at, I'll put Solomon (Thomas) in as the viper and put John away from where they're doubling him. He's our best pass rusher so we try to move him around a little bit.

"As we've gone along he's become a little more comfortable at standing up, so we're able to put him into that viper situation where he moves around a little bit and comes sometimes and he's done that pretty well." 

The selfless Simon just shrugs when asked about filling so many roles for this team. He sees it no differently than the rest of the group up front, where no one is really set in one fixed spot. While Garrett Goebel primarily plays nose tackle, he will slide over from time to time to another tackle or end spot. The same is true of fellow starters Johnathan Hankins and Adam Bellamy along with primary reserve Michael Bennett.

"Really I prefer wherever the team needs me," Simon said. "Our d-line prides itself on being versatile and a lot of guys are able to play different positions. I think throughout the course of the game that gives people problems. Even seeing ‘Big Hank' at end and going down to nose tackle, just little change ups like that I think give us a little bit of an advantage.

"Coach Heacock does a terrific job of moving us around and putting us in positions where we can be successful. I attribute that to them." 

Underwood Up?
Ohio State's matchup Saturday with Purdue could see the fifth different freshman (second true freshman) to earn a start this season.

J.B. Shugarts suffered a knee injury late in the 34-20 win over Indiana last week, and he is not expected to be ready to go this week.

True freshman Antonio Underwood replaced him against the Hoosiers and is the favorite to earn the starting nod if the senior Shugarts cannot play.

Underwood practiced with the first team Tuesday and has the confidence of his teammates and head coach Luke Fickell.

"He's a very good o-lineman," said Simon, who has tangled with the Shaker Heights, Ohio, product in practice. "Unfortunate to lose JB but he's a great replacement. You couldn't ask for anyone better. Hard-working, enthusiastic and has a great motor on him." 

Sophomore Jack Mewhort, who will line up at guard next to Underwood, has liked what he has seen so far from the youngster.

"He's intense. He's physical and keeps his feet moving. That's what you like to see out of a young guy. He stayed composed out there and didn't get flustered at all," Mewhort said. "Mentally there's a little bit of a curve. I'll be playing next to him so I need to make sure I communicate everything to him. Physically, he's a great athlete. He's got great feet and pass blocks well. I think he did a great job against Indiana when he came in, so we're excited to see what he can do." 

Underwood was unexpectedly pushed into action, but Fickell credited his being ready with having spent all year in the two-deep. Underwood played in two games before facing the Hoosiers but made the most of his chances in practice.

"Sometimes as a young guy you don't get as many opportunities to play in football games, but if you can get the reps in practice and they're good reps with the ones and twos at times, it's very well worth it to have a guy who isn't redshirting," Fickell said. "He hasn't had a ton of reps in game situations, but he's taken a ton of reps in practice and gone against good guys. We feel comfortable with everything he's done. 

Mewhort or classmate Marcus Hall, who started the first five games at right guard before the return of All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams prompted a shuffle of the lineup, could also fill Shugarts' spot if the coaches deem Underwood unready.  

"I think a lot of different guys can play multiple positions, so that's good for us," Mewhort said.

Learning True Meaning of 'Safety'
Christian Bryant's first two years in Columbus have been an up-and-down experience. The sophomore, who arrived last year as a highly touted defensive back prospect from Cleveland Glenville, showed some glimpses of his talent as a true freshman playing the Star position before a foot infection sidelined him for the second half of the season.

Safeties coach Paul Haynes said this week that resulted in some stressful days as Bryant's doctors initially could not figure out what medicine to use to treat the ailment. They did eventually get it under control, however, and Bryant returned to practice late in the season and played in the Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas in January.

This year he has added safety to his duties and received mixed reviews so far.

Although Bryant is third on the team with 46 tackles and leads the squad with seven pass breakups, he has dropped at least two interceptions that could have resulted in big plays. He was also in the middle of a handful of scoring plays against Nebraska and Wisconsin when he either let a receiver get away from him in a zone or missed an open-field tackle.

Blessed with great confidence, Bryant seems unfazed, however, and the coaching staff is aware growing pains are going to happen.

"He's a young kid who's playing two positions," Haynes said. "The safety position is new for him because ever since he's been here he's played that Star. At that star position everything is right now and in front of you."

The safeties coach said Bryant is coming along and compared his football sense to that of fellow Glenville alumnus Jermale Hines, a three-year starter and an All-Big Ten selection last season.

"At that safety spot he just has to get a little bit more disciplined," Haynes said. "It's a little bit different than that Star position. You can be a little bit more aggressive at that Star position." 

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