INDIANAPOLIS — As a standout defender at Ohio State, John Simon primarily played with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in the Buckeyes' 4-3 defensive scheme.
But since entering the NFL back in 2013, Simon benefitted from having the ability to play multiple roles in multiple defensive schemes with his first two teams, the Baltimore Ravens (who selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft) and the Houston Texans.
After signing with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent last offseason, however, Simon was instantly penciled in as a starter at outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 base defense, in which he would primarily be counted on to get after the passer once again.
Simon blossomed in that role for the first six weeks of the season, collecting 38 tackles (six for a loss), 12 quarterback hits, three sacks and one interception that he returned for a touchdown. But he suffered a painful stinger injury in his neck Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and after missing a few games and then trying to work his way back to the field, he was placed on Injured Reserve in early December.
But Simon returns for his second year in Indianapolis in 2018 with plenty of changes around him — and, naturally, questions about his exact role as the Colts switch to a 4-3 defensive scheme under new coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Will he get back to his roots as a 4-3 defensive end? Could he be counted on more as an outside linebacker, making plays both at the line of scrimmage and in coverage?
After going through the first week of the team's offseason workout program — its first under new head coach Frank Reich — Simon says he doesn't really have a specific answer to those questions. But he told Colts.com's Matt Taylor on Friday that he's not going to be picky one way or another.
"Yeah — wherever they want me," Simon said when asked if he preferred more of a role as a defensive end or a linebacker in the 4-3. "That's kind of my thing, and that's how I've been able to stick around is I can do a little bit of everything and whatever the team needs. So wherever they want me to be, I'll be."
Since entering the NFL Draft out of Ohio State back in 2013, league pundits have noted time and time again how Simon's size (6-foot-1, 250 pounds) wasn't exactly ideal when stacking him up against other edge pass rushers, many of whom are at least 6-foot-3 and weigh in around 260 or 270 pounds.
But much like he was able to do at Ohio State, Simon has been able to remain productive, despite any questions about his size. Despite only becoming a full-time starter last year for the first time in his career, the 27-year-old Simon has racked up 106 career tackles, 13 sacks, four passes defended, one forced fumble and fumble recovery apiece, as well as that aforementioned interception.
So whether he's coming off the edge or playing more in the middle of the field, Simon's going to make plays. Ultimately, however, only one statistic matters in his mind.
"As long as we're winning games," Simon said. "That's why I came here, 'cause the Colts have won games and they know how to win games. Unfortunately last year didn't go the way we wanted to, but we're trying to get back on track."
Now fully healthy once again, Simon said he's been cleared for full participation in the offseason workout program. He said he can feel a close bond forming among his teammates on the defensive side of the ball, and that everyone's ready to hit the field in a couple weeks and start working on righting the ship from a frustrating 4-12 campaign in 2017.
Simon figures to be a big piece of that puzzle, wherever it is that he lines up.
"Well, I think we had a good foundation. A lot of guys were new and getting to know each other and all of that," Simon said of last season. "We talked about that chemistry we had to build before, and I think it's there now. Unfortunately for myself I got injured pretty early in the season there and was struggling with that for a little bit. But that's part of the game; that's how it happens. And happy to be back, healthy, and ready to go."