It’s been another transition year for Missouri junior free safety Ian Simon.
Building off a strong finish to the 2012 season, Simon emerged as the Tigers’ primary nickelback, starting six games as a sophomore last season.
It was a bold new world for Simon, who was asked to cover tight ends on one play and the twitchy slot receivers the next or maybe pick up a running back releasing from the backfield.
“There was a huge adjustment period, so there were times I was extremely frustrated with myself,” Simon said. “It seemed like I was catching on so slow and there were certain things that other guys were catching on really fast. It took me longer to adjust to it, but (safeties) coach (Alex) Grinch was very patient with me and (defensive coordinator Dave Steckel) was very patient with me. They worked with me and we were able to find the right formula and make everything work.”
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Simon had been hesitant to move to nickel early in the season, but was willing to try anything to get on the field.
He responded with 42 tackles, including 3 1/2 for a loss, with five pass breakups, all career highs.
Simon grew comfortable by the end of 2013 at nickel, but he was asked to switch positions again last spring, moving to free safety after Matt White’s graduation.
Once again, Simon has responded fairly well to the transition.
He ranks ninth on MU with a career-high 44 tackles, including a half-sack and a tackle for a loss.
Simon also recorded his second career interception at Texas A&M and his first forced fumble against South Dakota State.
It hasn’t been perfect, but, by and large, Simon has flourished again.
“There’s some techniques that are different, but overall I feel really comfortable back there,” he said. “It’s like I’m back home now. Nickel was a foreign land. I’d never played that position in my life. I was doing what the team needed me to do, but I feel really good being back at safety.”
There have been rocky moments, but Simon’s presence on the back end of the defense is critical, if only because he’ll inherit the role as leader of the secondary when Braylon Webb, a three-year starter at strong safety, graduates.
“I still have Bray by my side, and I’m really just following his lead,” Simon said. “Bray does everything right, and I just want to do everything right like he does. Bray is a great person for me to follow. He’s one of the best safeties in our conference and, therefore, one of the best safeties in the country. I have a great person to learn from, and being next to him gives me confidence.”
Simon hopes the lessons he has learned this season carry over when he’s a senior in 2015 just like the lessons he learned at nickel made him a better free safety.
“Being down there and then coming back (to safety), it gives me so much more confidence, because I know that I can be physical,” Simon said. “I know that I can handle myself, because if you can handle yourself in the trenches, you can handle yourself on the back end. That’s not a problem. That physicality. That didn’t go anywhere.”