ARIZONA CARDINALS

Arizona Cardinals confident Isaiah Simmons can help fill Budda Baker void

Dec 29, 2022, 6:08 PM

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)...

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker leaves a big hole to fill in the secondary after being placed on injured reserve this week with a fractured shoulder.

The Pro Bowler’s season may be done, but the same can’t said for his team, which still has two games left to play in what has been an ugly year.

The void Baker leaves behind is immense. It’ll take a group effort to make up for his absence, but it’s one defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is confident he has a plan for over the next two weeks.

After all the chatter at the beginning of the year surrounding star backer Isaiah Simmons and his work with the safeties — a regular occurrence since 2020 at this point — he along with Chris Banjo are now tasked with holding down the fort alongside Jalen Thompson in place of the injured Baker.

“It’s been really natural because that’s what he’s been his whole life,” Joseph said Thursday when asked about Simmons’ play at safety. “He’s a 6-foot-4 guy, so when you look at him, you see more of a backer, more of a strong safety, but he’s been a space player his whole life.

“He’s really comfortable playing nickel and playing half safety and playing the third. That’s what he likes to do. His range and movement stuff can show, but he has no problem playing those positions. He played nickel for an entire season and hadn’t been exposed and that’s hard to do for a 6-foot-4 guy, so that speaks to his special skillset.”

Although Simmons hasn’t played a ton at safety this season — 30 snaps, per Pro Football Focus — the star backer is far from a stranger in Arizona’s secondary.

Of his 778 defensive snaps registered across multiple positions this year, more than half (429) have come playing safety (19 plays at strong and 11 at free) and cornerback. With each passing season, Simmons has continued to see more and more work out in coverage. We should see this trend continue to tick upward over the final two games and into the future.

Speaking of future, this is a prime opportunity for Simmons to further prove his long-term worth to the team that drafted him with the No. 8 pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

After the season, Arizona has until May 1 to decide whether or not to exercise the fifth-year option of Simmons’ rookie deal.

It’s certainly been a year of growth for Simmons, who went from losing playing time due to practice habits and poor play, to one of Arizona’s top defenders. He’s one of four Cardinals with at least 85 tackles to go along with two interceptions, three sacks, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 15 games played.

And while Banjo has been used sparingly on defense — just 68 snaps played in 2022 — those around him remain confident and comfortable with the safety around.

“Great leader, great man,” Baker said of his fellow safety after Banjo was re-signed by the team back in September. “A lot of guys on this team would like to be a guy like Chris Banjo. He’s a very lovable guy.

“Nobody has any problems with him. A guy who comes into work and does his best each and every week and a guy who also can mentor you, whether that’s football things or outside of football things. Just a true, wholesome guy.”

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