Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Year in review: Veterans anchor DL
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to break down a defensive line that had high expectations at the beginning of the year and was starting to live up to them by the end.
Ohio State defensive end John Simon had 14.5 tackles for loss in 2012 as a senior.
Most valuable player: The final season with the program might not have been as prolific individually as expected for John Simon, but good luck getting the two-time captain and team-first senior to complain about his numbers after helping the Buckeyes go undefeated. Simon was hampered by injuries all season long and perhaps had to carry more of the workload than Ohio State initially planned due to a roster that didn't have quite as much depth as initially thought, but he still led the Big Ten in sacks and provided invaluable leadership to help set the tone for future teams under coach Urban Meyer.
By the numbers: While it seemed for much of the year Simon was having plenty of chances to make big plays in the backfield slip out of his hands, he still wound up converting plenty of them by grabbing hold and throwing them to the turf during his last season with the Buckeyes. If Simon had the benefit of a Big Ten championship appearance, a bowl game or even the final week of the regular season to pad his stats, he surely would have topped the 16 tackles for loss he posted as a junior. In the end, he settled for 14.5 of them -- effectively one out of every three tackles he made went for a loss.
Best moment: Nobody knew it at the time, but Simon's last game turned out to be one of the finest of a memorable career. In a physical, throwback style of game that suited the defensive lineman's game perfectly, Simon was relentless in a late-season trip Wisconsin, tying the school record with four sacks to help carry the Buckeyes in a division-clinching victory for the team that also added to his personal legacy. Simon injured his knee in the victory and couldn't get back on the field in time to take on Michigan to close the regular season, which set the stage for an emotional moment as he limped out for introductions on Senior Day. But his last afternoon in pads for Ohio State will be remembered for a long time.
Preseason question: Could the Buckeyes become one of the best units in the country?
Postseason answer: Through a combination of injuries and the departures of two potential contributors, including projected starter Adam Bellamy, the talent surplus the Buckeyes were expected to have on the line never materialized. Simon's health slowed him at times, Nathan Williams needed time to look like himself after his microfracture knee surgery last year, Michael Bennett was hampered by a groin injury and the highly regarded freshmen backing them all up weren't quite ready to make a huge splash right away -- forcing the Buckeyes to just try to stay afloat for about half of the season. But late in the year as Ohio State developed the newcomers and Williams and Simon gained strength, the defensive line was an absolute handful when the ends were able to complement the steady, if not spectacular, play of tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel.
Looking ahead: The Buckeyes appear to be stocked with front-line talent ready to step in for the three seniors that are leaving the program. But it will be the decision of a draft-eligible junior that could determine just how stout Ohio State will be heading into a year that won't include a postseason ban. Hankins is widely regarded as a first-round talent and is free to leave if he chooses, but his return would certainly provide a substantial boost to a national-title chase and would also put rising sophomores Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt in better position to succeed individually with the big man anchoring the unit in the middle. Without him, those three could still build a formidable first-team unit with a healthy Bennett returning for his junior campaign.