During his rookie season last year, one of the toughest adjustments for Ravens outside linebacker John Simon was learning the nuances of pass coverage.
At Ohio State, the gritty former Big Ten Conference Player of the Year lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker while operating primarily as a pass rusher and run-stopper.
Simon rarely was asked to drop back in pass coverage in college. So, playing in reverse has become a major point of emphasis for Simon following a quiet rookie year in which the fourth-round draft pick played on special teams.
"Just playing in space was big for me in the offseason," Simon told The Baltimore Sun at the close of spring workouts. "Every day, I did something to work on that. I think it's showing out there on the field. I can feel myself making progress.
"Absolutely, that was a big emphasis for me this offseason and something I really strived to excel at and make one of my weaknesses a strength. I think things are going in the right direction."
In seven games last season, Simon recorded four solo tackles on special teams.
Simon flashed some pass-rushing skills in the preseason last August when he used an inside spin move to beat Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Alec Savoie to sack Falcons quarterback Sean Renfree.
There wasn't much playing time to be had, though, as a reserve behind veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee.
"I did everything I was able to do," Simon said. "I've worked extremely hard this offseason and hopefully it will pay off for me this year."
Simon is an avid weightlifter known for haunting the gym for countless hours. He has bench pressed 225 pounds 48 times and has a maximum bench press of over 450 pounds. He has also squatted 700 pounds.
A two-time team captain for the Buckeyes, Simon ran the 40-yard dash between 4.62 and 4.7 seconds entering the NFL draft.
Simon says he's made gains this offseason, further improving his speed and strength.
"I actually gained a few pounds and I feel faster," Simon said. "That's always a plus when you can do that."
In four college seasons, Simon finished with 154 tackles including 43 for a loss, 20.5 sacks and 10 pass deflections. As a senior in 2012, Simon had a career-high nine sacks.
Signed to a four-year, $2.545 million contract that includes a $385,652 signing bonus, Simon was once described by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer as the heart and soul of the Buckeyes. Meyer even said that Simon was his second-favorite player he coached behind former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
Now, Simon is hoping to make a greater contribution in his second NFL season, whether that's on defense or special teams.
"We've been working on special teams every day," Simon said. "That's something we take serious around here, and that's something I will always take serious. Wherever the team wants me to play, I'm going to work hard and get the job done."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun