- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.
Who: Within the Ohio State locker room or around the Big Ten, on the field with prolific production or in the weight room with his fanatical work ethic, John Simon's reputation and legendary status was officially secured during a senior season largely played at less than full strength. Battling various ailments without issuing a single complaint, the defensive end still finished the year on top of the conference in sacks. A two-time captain, Simon willed the Buckeyes through a series of other injuries that tested the defense and ultimately helped them finish unbeaten in the face of NCAA sanctions that prevented them from playing in the league title game or a bowl. Replacing everything Simon provided certainly will be no small task, but he's at least done all he could to provide a blueprint for those players coming behind him.
By the numbers: A knee injury suffered in the Wisconsin game ultimately proved too much for Simon to recover from and robbed him of one last outing in a rivalry showdown with Michigan, but the senior certainly went out on top against the Badgers. Simon's four sacks tied the single-game record at Ohio State, and they also helped him climb up to No. 7 in school history in both sacks (20) and tackles for loss (43) -- numbers that potentially could have been higher with an extra game or two.
Job description: No pressure or anything, but Simon was unquestionably the heart and soul of the perfect Buckeyes, and filling his leadership void will take more than just a strong voice. Much of Simon's work was done by example with his tireless search for improvement, and it will be imperative for veterans to step up and provide the kind of guidance he and fellow captain Zach Boren provided. Simon certainly got things done on Saturdays as well, and the Buckeyes will need his replacement up front to show the same kind of strength he showed in overpowering blockers while also flashing the kind of speed he possessed chasing down quarterbacks in the backfield. Ability to play both inside and out is a plus.
Top candidates: The Buckeyes didn't panic when they found out Simon wouldn't be able to play against the Wolverines, and Adolphus Washington made it clear where some of that confidence was coming from. The true freshman turned in one of the most memorable plays of the final win of the year with his bullrush past All-Big Ten tackle Taylor Lewan for a sack and forced fumble, one more example of the bright future ahead of the highly touted recruit a year ago. Like Simon, Washington has the combination of size and quickness to play different spots up front, and he's likely going to be tough to knock out of the lineup when the chance to claim that job permanently presents itself in the spring.
One to watch: The bumper crop of freshmen combined with the hold the seniors had on jobs ahead of him kept Steve Miller from really emerging as a sophomore, but the chance to compete for more work is coming for him heading into his third season with the program. Miller left spring a year ago as the backup to Simon, but he only appeared in seven games and finished with just one sack. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and another year ahead of him to build his body and improve his technique, Miller should be able to put himself in position to give the Buckeyes much more than that next season.
1hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
3hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
1dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
3dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman