Vance Joseph: Isaiah Simmons will be primarily ILB for Cardinals
In an ideal world, the Arizona Cardinals would use Isaiah Simmons just as the Clemson Tigers did on their national title run in 2019.
They moved him all over the field and gave him different gameplans by week, depending on the matchup.
The Cardinals believe in Simmons’ ability to take in that much information each line, line up in a different spot and cover the right player. How he excelled in such a role throughout college was enough for Arizona to buy in to him as studious and highly intelligent translating that to his physicality on the football field.
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds with sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed, he has the tools to play outside linebacker to nickel corner.
Is placing him in a similar role of extreme versatility that helped him dominate at Clemson really translatable?
“I think some of it is, I think some of it’s not,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Tuesday during a conference call. “It’s the best players in the world. You watch the draft on the weekend … receivers are getting drafted like no one’s business.
“It’s a lateral, it’s a speed game, it’s a three-wide-receiver game. Some of the things he did at Clemson, it’s going to be realistic, some of it won’t be.”
Part of that answer is because his role is to-be-decided. The Cardinals want to see Simmons in person and line him up against NFL offensive lineman and receivers.
The reality, though, is that he will excel being an oversized cover man whose mere presence can hide the Cardinals’ intentions.
“He’s going to be a linebacker and a dime in our sub package, but we drafted this guy because of what we saw him do at Clemson,” Joseph said.
“He’s going to be a problem solver. Each gameplan is different and as problems come along and he can solve them for us, he would definitely be a candidate to do those things for us.”
Simmons, not to mention the Cardinals’ other defensive additions from free agency and the draft, will give Joseph freedoms he couldn’t come close to affording last year.
The Cardinals lost two starting cornerbacks to begin the year, forcing youngsters to play out of positions and at multiple spots. Jordan Hicks was their only certifiably above-average inside linebacker, while Chandler Jones was their only non-problematic outside backer.
The defensive line was a mess due to surprise cuts and injuries.
Now, Joseph could be flush with options just at inside linebacker. According to Joseph, De’Vondre Campbell was their top free agent target who they signed to a one-year deal. Throw Simmons on the field with Campbell, also a tight end-eraser, and the productive Hicks, and opponents could have problems determining who’s doing what.
Add in Jones, outside backers Devon Kennard and even Haason Reddick, and Joseph’s odd seven-man front causes problems.
“(Simmons is) a guy who can stand up and rush on the edge as an outside backer, he can obviously cover tight ends, he can obviously walk over the slot as a nickel type of player,” Joseph said. “When they’re counting the box and we’ve got Haason Reddick out there, we’ve got Isaiah out there, we’ve got Campbell, we’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Chandler, we’ve got (tackle) Jordan Phillips, they have to declare who’s the fourth down (man) going to be.”
Most likely, the Cardinals will slide Simmons away from an inside linebacker spot against specific teams and specific scenarios.
Facing the San Francisco 49ers, Joseph said, could force Simmons to play a strong safety role to match up better with the NFL’s most productive tight end George Kittle and one of the league’s best fullbacks, Kyle Juszczyk.
“I can’t guarantee he’s going to play corner for us or safety for us full time,” Joseph said of Simmons.
The defensive coordinator just can’t not guarantee anything either, and that has the Cardinals excited.