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John Simon Brings Freakish, Contagious Work Ethic


John Simon walked into the Under Armour Performance Center last week for his first day on the job.

He signed some paperwork, took a few photos for the media guide, and set his stuff down at his new locker. Then he wanted to get to work.

"Where's the weight room?" Simon asked.

True to his reputation as a workout warrior, Simon found his way into an empty Ravens' weight room and got in a lift on his own. Before he'd even met most of his new teammates and coaches, the fourth-round pick out of Ohio State had familiarized himself with the place he's most comfortable.

"That's John," said his college position coach Mike Vrabel. "He'll be in there. He'll open the weight room, and he'll have a set of keys before the end of the summer. That's just the type of guy John is. He'll be the first one in there. That's what he enjoys."

The outside linebacker has long been known as a weight-room junkie. Even in high school, he was somewhat of an urban legend after he bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times as a 16 year old.

Simon grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, a hard-working blue-collar town in the heart of the rust belt, and he carries that gritty upbringing with him.

"Like most athletes that come out of Youngstown, he carries his lunch box to work every day," Vrabel said. "He's a tough kid. He's exactly what the Ravens would want in a player – toughness, put the team first."

When Simon got to college, his impact was felt almost immediately. 

He earned his way into the defensive rotation as a true freshmen, and then became a full-time starter his sophomore year. Simon's teammates voted him a captain his junior season and again as a senior, making him just one of seven two-time captains in Ohio State history.

His effort was contagious.

Simon started dragging his teammates with him to his early-morning workouts, and his intensity quickly caught the eye of Head Coach Urban Meyer and his staff. Meyer took over the Ohio State job before Simon's senior year, and he soon realized there was something special about him.

"He's different," Meyer said last year. "They're different. God made them completely different. They're freaks. They're bizarre. I'm talking about the self-discipline, self-respect, work ethic that most of us can only dream of."

Meyer's adoration for Simon has been well documented.

He famously said in a postgame press conference last year that if he had another son he'd want to name him after Simon. He also called Simon "Tebowish," referencing the former Heisman Trophy winner that helped Meyer win two national championships as the coach of Florida. Meyer has two jerseys hanging up in his office – Tebow's and Simon's.

"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."

When Simon gets on the football field, he brings the same kind of intensity that Meyer and Vrabel loved about his preparation.

Coaches and draft analysts routinely pointed to his motor and hustle as perhaps his best quality, more so than any athletic trait.

"His effort is unrivaled, it's unmatched," Vrabel said. "It will be second to no one out on the field on every snap. John understands that by playing hard with a lot of intensity, that a lot of those things get taken care of."

Those effortspaid off last year, as Simon racked up big numbers. He finished the season with 44 tackles, nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, earning the recognition as Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year.

He played defensive end in Ohio State's 4-3 defense, but he projects as an outside linebacker for the Ravens. The knock on Simon – and part of the reason he was available in the fourth round – is that he's a bit of a tweener.

At 6-foot-1, 257 pounds, he's not big enough to play the defensive end spot in a 3-4. But he also doesn't have speed like outside pass rushers Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil. 

The most likely spot for Simon is in a rotation at the SAM linebacker spot, which Courtney Upshaw primarily played last year. It's an edge-setting, run-stuffing role where the defender often gets matched up against tight ends and running backs.

"I think he's got the ability to continue to learn SAM linebacker," Vrabel said. "I think he's going to be able to dominate tight ends just with his strength. And I think he can certainly rush and he proved that he can be a good pass rusher for us, and someone that continues to work on technique."

Vrabel, a 14-year NFL pro who was drafted by the Steelers and spent four years in Pittsburgh, knows the kind of football played in the AFC North.

And he sees Simon as a perfect fit.

"John plays with a type of toughness, and an edge, and a work ethic and a preparation that is tailor made for that division," Vrabel said. "He's going to be a pleasant surprise. And I know they think they got a great bargain in the fourth round. You look at teams like the Steelers and the Ravens, those are the types of teams that really target players like John Simon."

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh sees the same thing.

"He is our kind of guy," Harbaugh said*after *the draft.

Vrabel is right about the Ravens targeting players like Simon. After the second and third rounds of this year's draft, the Ravens personnel department had a meeting that lasted into early Saturday morning where they re-stacked the board for the final day of the draft.

In that meeting, Owner Steve Bisciotti asked all the scouts to put their name next to a player on the board they most wanted the Ravens to draft on the final day. Three scouts put their names next to Simon.

They saw some of the same qualities in Simon that made Meyer such a big fan, and now Simon has a chance to make that pick pay off.

"I would be surprised if John Simon didn't have an impact on the success of the Ravens this year," Vrabel said. "I would be very surprised if he didn't have an impact on it, somehow, someway, by the end of the year."

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