Cardinals DC knew in-season ‘learning curve’ was coming for Isaiah Simmons

Sep 18, 2020, 7:09 AM | Updated: 7:37 am
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

How many learning opportunities did rookies in the National Football League miss this offseason due to the changes made for COVID-19?

A whole lot, according to Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who on Thursday was speaking about first-round pick Isaiah Simmons.

“I knew it was going to be a learning curve for Isaiah,” Joseph said. “He missed the entire offseason, he missed the preseason games — it was a COVID training camp. He’s probably missed 1,200 snaps at playing inside-backer and playing his role for this defense, so I knew it was going to be tough early.”

Simmons played 18 snaps (29% of the total defensive snaps) in Week 1’s win over the San Francisco 49ers. Only 1,182 to go to catch up.

With the rookie playing behind linebacker De’Vondre Campbell on the depth chart, he still got involved early in the game but was responsible for a long touchdown for 49ers running back Raheem Mostert and also called for a horse-collar tackling penalty on tight end George Kittle.

As Joseph noted, though, Simmons’ seven to eight coverages on Kittle resulted in only that one catch for the All-Pro tight end. And one of those was a play that Joseph saw San Francisco targeting the tight end, but Simmons had locked that up, and the result was an Arizona sack for Angelo Blackson.

Now, Kittle was playing hurt for a portion of the game after a tackle by Cardinals safety Budda Baker, but that had to be a nice confidence booster for Simmons regardless.

“Him competing with Kittle and getting knocked around — that’s what he needed,” Joseph said. “Now he understands how hard it is to cover these tight ends, how physical this NFL game is because we couldn’t simulate it for him. The speed, the toughness, the aggressive play of these tight ends — we couldn’t simulate that in practice at all.”

Joseph said he called his rookie linebacker after the game and said he was proud of him hanging in there, noting that “it got fast on him quickly.”

“He’s gonna get better and better,” Joseph said. “Physically, he’s what we want. He just needs more time on the job.”

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