Ohio State’s Simon to play in Senior Bowl

After missing the 2012 season finale due to injury, John Simon will play one more football game in an Ohio State helmet.

Simon has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in late January. Long considered the premier postseason all-star game with practices attended by almost every NFL coach and scout, the Senior Bowl has a new CEO: Phil Savage, former general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

“Simon is reminiscent of (longtime NFL linebacker and current Green Bay Packers assistant coach) Kevin Greene,” Savage said. “He’s tough, he’s an overachiever, but he has some ability. Pass-rushers are always in demand, and he spends a lot of time in the backfield.

“His NFL future might be as an outside linebacker in 3-4 defense, and we’ll try to get him to play on his feet at the Senior Bowl.”

That would be a change for Simon, who played mostly defensive end last season at Ohio State. He did play standing up in some defensive packages and also had played inside in previous seasons.

Simon was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and earlier this week was named third-team Associated Press All-America for the second-straight year. He was injured during a four-sack game at Wisconsin on Nov. 17 and had to miss the win over Michigan in the season finale. The Youngstown, Ohio native had 21 career sacks in 49 games.

Simon accepting the invitation is a sign that he’s recovering from the knee injury that cost him his final Michigan game. His mission, starting with the Senior Bowl, will be to prove to the eyes of the NFL that at 6-foot-2, 263 pounds he has a position — either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, most likely — and can continue to be a productive player at the game’s highest level. He certainly has the endorsement of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who repeatedly called Simon “the heart and soul of the program” during the 2012 season.

The Senior Bowl has also extended an invitation to Ohio State right tackle Reid Fragel, though Fragel has not yet committed to the game.

Fragel played in 39 games at tight end, making nine starts, in his first three college seasons before starting all 12 games at right tackle last season. The 2012 Ohio State roster listed Fragel at 6’8, 310.

“When I was at Ohio State in September to watch practice, (Fragel’s) talent was obvious,” Savage said. “He has a long way to go, and it’s too early to tell how he’ll fit in this draft with guys who have been playing the position for so long, but he’s certainly an intriguing project.

“He has the athleticism. It will be interesting to see how he holds the weight he added to play tackle. There’s a possibility teams will look at him at left tackle because of his athleticism.”

Left tackle has become a high-dollar, high-demand position in the NFL, and the Senior Bowl has become a large-scale event for prospects to show their talents and meet future employers. Practices throughout the week and the Senior Bowl game are nationally-televised, and NFL coaching staffs coach each Senior Bowl team.

Savage, a Mobile native who has longtime connections to the game, is in his first year in charge. He said more than 90 invitations have been extended, with more than 50 acceptances already in and “10-20” spots still to be finalized.
Many players wait until after their college seasons and eligibility and over and consult with their representation before making final Senior Bowl decisions. Savage and the Senior Bowl have been releasing the names of committed players weekly.

Also invited but not yet confirmed is speedy Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Savage said Robinson has been invited to play wide receiver at the Senior Bowl — he played some running back late this season at Michigan.

Savage signed Joshua Cribbs as an undrafted free agent in 2005, his first year with the Browns. Cribbs, a quarterback at Kent State, now plays as a backup receiver and shares the NFL’s all-time record for kickoff return touchdowns. Robinson became the NCAA’s all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback in 2012, passing Cribbs along the way.

“We’d like to see Denard get some reps at receiver and in the return game at the Senior Bowl,” Savage said. “He’s intriguing. He certainly has that home-run ability with the ball in his hands.”

Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti’s injury will keep him out of the Senior Bowl, Savage said. Highly-regarded Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short has committed to the game.

Late last month, Kent State offensive tackle Brian Winters — a native of Hudson, Ohio — committed to playing in the Senior Bowl.

“(Winters) comes very highly recommended,” Savage said. “Every list I saw had his name on it, and everybody I consulted who scouts the Midwest said he’s very deserving.”

Savage said Winters will likely play inside at guard at the Senior Bowl and in the NFL.