Cardinals hand over defense to second-year LB Isaiah Simmons
GLENDALE, Arizona (AP) - Isaiah Simmons was a must-have contender when the Arizona Cardinals voted him No. 8 overall in last year's draft. Experts said he was a perfect prototype for the defensive player who would do anything NFL teams longed for.
Then something unexpected happened during Simmons' rookie season.
He was having trouble.
But coach Kliff Kingsbury isn't on the sophomore linebacker who was one of the college game's biggest stars at Clemson. He said Simmons navigated the pandemic-changed season as well as expected, especially as the Cardinals tried to teach him multiple positions while often staring at a zoom screen.
"That was honestly not fair," said Kingsbury. “You have seen his development throughout the season. He had a good offseason, he had a good training camp. He learns every day. "
Kingsbury is so convinced of the linebacker's abilities that he and Cardinals GM Steve Keim made the surprising decision to appoint Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins as mid-defense linebackers even before the camp competition began.
The bold move comes as Arizona is now trying to win. The franchise is hoping to take advantage of third-year quarterback Kyler Murray's relatively inexpensive rookie deal and recruit star veterans like defensive lineman J.J. Watt, receiver A.J. Green, center Rodney Hudson and cornerback Malcolm Butler during the offseason.
Simmons said he wasn't surprised the Cardinals put so much responsibility on him so quickly.
"I figured I'd have to be in command and that things would be mine," Simmons said. "From the day I was drafted, they were already telling me: one day this defense would be mine."
The 6-foot-4,238-pound Simmons got off to a slow start in his career trying to study in strange circumstances.
Oddly enough, both the lows and the highs of its season could have been hit in week 7. He played a season low of 6% of the team's defensive snaps against the Seattle Seahawks, but was unexpectedly called into action during extra time.
Then he came up with an interception that helped secure a 37-34 win.
Simmons said he would like to say the game happened because suddenly he was an expert at studying the tendencies of the opponents. Instead, he credited the Cardinals coaches for making an adjustment the previous week.
"Really, we've put together a new package," said Simmons. "It's really tough for the quarterback. You never know who's coming who's going to fall. I think (Russell Wilson) just read it wrong. Or I made the better game."
No matter who gets the recognition, there is no doubt that the game kicked off their season. He had a much bigger role in the latter half of the season and Kingsbury was comfortable enough with Simmons' performance to put him in leadership roles in his sophomore year.
Simmons said he would have no problem being the team's defensive quarterback, giving coverage and assignments to players up to 10 years older.
"We understand that the position I am in comes with the job," said Simmons. “Everyone understands that it's not me, a future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt what to do. That's how football works. "
Simmons was also asked to mentor Collins, who was number 16 overall from Tulsa. More of a prototype linebacker, the 6-foot-4,260-pound Collins is asked to anchor in the middle of the field.
Simmons said he hopes the duo can become like Tampa Bay's linebacker combo of Lavonte David and Devin White. The two combined over 250 tackles last season and helped the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl.
“I said to Zaven when he walked in: 'We can be that and more if we want to. It just depends on how much work we want to put in, how much we're going to put in to be where we want to be, '”Simmons said.
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