Brooks: ‘Bravo!’ to how Cardinals will teach ILB Isaiah Simmons
The allure of Isaiah Simmons as a prospect came from his versatility.
He played all over the field for the Clemson Tigers, and while optimistic evaluators believed he could handle doing the same thing as a pro, some NFL teams were scared off because they didn’t know where he would play to start his career.
The role Simmons will play for the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie lands somewhere in between restricted to one position and moving across five different roles, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“Our thought process is if he really is able to focus on one position, having the flexibility to still move around but still focus on one, ‘What does that look like?’ and the sky could really be the limit,” Kingsbury said last week. “We just think the sky could be the limit for what he could be if we lock him in one position for the majority of the time.”
His listed position is inside linebacker, but how the team uses Simmons will not be black or white. Locking him in as a linebacker to begin is a positive way to integrate him into the NFL, writes NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks.
I love this approach with young players. The transition from college to the NFL is tough, and freeing blue-chip players from mental clutter is the best way to help them play fast early in their careers. Although Simmons played a multi-faceted role at Clemson as an upperclassman, he was on campus for a few years before the coaching staff put more on his plate.
As Brooks points out, there’s always time for Simmons to do just that in the NFL.
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Simmons has the measurables to slot in as an inside linebacker, a position where versatility is of utmost importance in the current NFL.
Simmons can play as an over-sized defensive back, someone with 4.38-40-yard-dash speed capable of covering slot receivers. He has the length to cover tight ends and the explosiveness to hand a receiver off to coverage and blitz off the edge.
“I can’t guarantee he’s going to play corner for us or safety for us full time,” Joseph said, a comment that drew criticism when taken out of context by some analysts who loved Simmons.
But that statement didn’t mean Arizona will put handcuffs on Simmons. Joseph also said the No. 8 pick could play as a safety against teams that feature pass-catching tight ends and heavy run packages with fullbacks — teams like the NFC West rival San Franicsco 49ers.
Labeling Simmons is only a matter of practice, anyway. If he’s able to catch on quickly, his workload will expand, just as it did through his years at Clemson, writes Brooks.
Encouraging him to get acclimated and comfortable at one position before adding more on his shoulders should not only help in his long-term development, but enable him to contribute immediately.