GREEN BAY, Wis. – Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller had an apt comparison for guard Simon Stepaniak.
Stepaniak, a sixth-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers, is a powerful brawler who loves knocking defenders on their butts. Off the field, he is more akin to Dr. Robert Banner.
“He’s a tough guy,” Hiller said last week. “He doesn’t walk around the facility being a jerk and all that stuff. He’s very humble and actually very soft-spoken. He’s almost bashful a little bit off the field. When he gets out on the football field and he gets an opportunity to play the game, that Hulk comes out in him. He likes to play the game. He goes from mild-mannered to full-go. He’s an aggressive guy. He loves to play the game. As a coach, those are the guys that you love. You love guys that, off the field, you don’t have to deal with a whole lot of issues. He’s not high-maintenance. When he gets on the field, all he does is want to work.”
After starting 23 consecutive games in 2018 and 2019, Stepaniak suffered a torn ACL during the Hoosiers’ prep for the Gator Bowl. He had surgery in early January, which limited him to only the bench press. Despite limited training, he put up an impressive 37 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
However, he worked hard to become more than just a power player in his three years with Hiller.
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“As a football player, he can bend. He’s loose,” Hiller said. “He’s not a big, stiff kind of guy. He’s loose in the hips and loose in the joints. He’s got good fluidity to his movement skills and all those things.
“The biggest thing was at the point of attack. Because he’s so strong, he liked to get his hands on people and torque them a little bit and kind of throw them around from an upper-body perspective instead of really keeping his hips down and really rooting the guy out of there. I thought he did a nice job of trying to get better.”
According to Sports Info Solutions, 68 percent of Green Bay’s runs were zone. Indiana’s running game revolves around inside zone. Inside zone, as you’d imagine, is more of a between-the-tackles run and outside zone is more of a perimeter run. Outside zone requires more athleticism but the footwork for the blockers is generally the same.
“I think he fits well,” Hiller said. “He understands angles and he’s smart. He’s just got to continue to get better on the outside zone. Just watching the Packers, I know they run quite a bit of outside zone. Simon fits in. To me, because of his athletic ability and his strength, I think he can thrive in any type of scheme. I’ve coached guys who were maybe a little bit bigger and stiffer. The zone scheme, you have to have some athletic ability. It’s not just get on a track and block whatever’s on that track. There’s some concepts and combinations that you have to be able to get onto linebackers and run some combo blocks. He has that fluidity.”
In 25 years of college coaching, Hiller has sent 20 linemen to the NFL. “I didn’t put any of them in the NFL. They put themselves in the NFL,” Hiller quickly corrected. Nonetheless, Hiller knows what NFL offensive linemen look like. He is confident Stepaniak has what it takes.
“I’ve coached guys along the way that had the potential to probably play in the NFL and they never drank the water,” Hiller said. “I tell the guys in the meeting room all the time, it’s the old adage of you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it. I’ve coached plenty of guys that didn’t drink the water and I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of guys that did drink the water. Simon’s a guy that is hungry and he’s going to have an opportunity to go and make his hay and make his way in the NFL. He’s got the physical body, he’s got the tools. You know how it is in the NFL, you’ve got to have luck on your side, as well. That’s the other crazy thing about Simon is until this knee deal that he had in bowl preparation, he had never been injured. Unfortunately, he took a little step back there. He’s such a strong guy that he’s recovered really well and his rehab has went as fast as it could go. He made it to the Combine and ended up being able to do the bench press and still knocked out 37 reps, which is really impressive.”