MOBILE, Ala. – A funny thing happened as the North team made its way out of the hotel and towards the team bus for Senior Bowl practice on Monday.
Former Ohio State star John Simon’s hands were full, so somebody held the door for him.
Simon looked over to see it was former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. And this good deed was neither a setup nor blasphemy.
“We should have gotten a picture of that,” Simon said.
The Senior Bowl marks a new start for both, including what’s both a ceremonial and real burying of past grudges for Simon and Robinson, who have more in common than their Big Ten roots this week. Robinson is trying to get medically cleared for full contact so he can show NFL scouts how far along he is in a potential transition to wide receiver, while Simon is playing outside linebacker and playing football for the first time since Nov. 17.
His lingering knee issues got worse the week of the Michigan game, keeping him out of the finale of Ohio State’s 12-0 season. Simon is here to work on his future this week, but he did reveal that he never expected to miss the Ohio State game, even in the locker room just before kickoff as his teammates warmed up on the field.
“It was crazy,” Simon said. “I really had no thought that I would miss the game. I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll take care of this. It will be fine. I really didn’t make that decision until about 10 minutes before kickoff. Even when the team was out warming up and I was in the locker room getting ready, doing to some stuff to try to fix it, I still thought I was going to be able to go out there.
“Yes, it was rough all year. I wasn’t healthy for any of the games. The least pain I felt was probably that (Wisconsin) game (he had four sacks), physically not mentally. It was a tough season, but it paid off. It was well worth it.”
Simon walked slowly to midfield during Senior Day festivities just before the Michigan game, wearing sweats instead of pads.
“I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to do it,” Simon said. “That was a very long walk.”
All the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will say now is that “the knee is healed,” and that he’s shaking some rust and getting his wind back this week at the Senior Bowl, where he’s playing strong side linebacker in a 4-3 defense for the first time ever. Simon played mostly defensive end but also played some inside and standing up in some situations, but nothing like the position he’s playing this week.
“It’s definitely a transition,” he said. “I’m better at attacking tight ends and setting the edge for the run than I am in coverage right now. That’s just how it is. I have to keep getting better.
“It’s a jump start. I get to show that I can play not only defensive end but that I can help at linebacker as well. This week can do nothing but benefit me.”
Simon measured at 6’1 and a half, 256 pounds at the official Senior Bowl weigh-in on Monday. This week and over the next few months he’ll try to show the NFL his knee is healthy and he’s athletic enough for a potential move to linebacker, either in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense.
It’s about new beginnings, even making good with that guy from Michigan.
“Denard and I have gotten to know each other a little bit,” Simon said. “He’s a great guy and I’m happy to have him on my team so I don’t have to chase him around and game-plan around him.
“He’s a tremendous athlete. I look forward to seeing him be able to let loose a little bit and perform. The old stuff is out the window and everybody is here trying to make a new start.”
ON THE MEND: Robinson played some running back and returned kicks late last season at Michigan after suffering an elbow injury. He’s officially playing wide receiver this week, though he was limited in practice on Monday.
Robinson said it’s lingering nerve damage from the elbow injury that’s kept him from getting full clearance from doctors, but on Monday night he said he believed there was a chance he’d be cleared in time for Tuesday’s practice, the first in pull pads and at full tempo.
“I’m a football player,” Robinson said. “People want to see me catch. I want to get better at returning. My biggest thing is just getting cleared to do it. It’s a transition but it’s still football. I want a chance, and if I get that chance I’ll play wherever the coaches want me to.”
ON THE LIST: Ohio State offensive tackle Reid Fragel and Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams, an Akron native, originally committed to the Senior Bowl but bowed out for injury-related reasons. Along with Simon, Ohio natives on the North roster are quarterback Zac Dysert (Miami (Oh.) University/Ada), fullback Kyle Jusczyk (Harvard/Lodi Cloverleaf) and offensive lineman Brian Winters (Kent State/Hudson).