Cardinals consider Isaiah Simmons at safety as injuries pile up
Rookie Isaiah Simmons was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals as an inside linebacker and has played 35 defensive snaps as one through three games.
A position switch might already be on the table. With injuries piling up, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said the No. 8 pick from the 2020 NFL Draft might begin making a move to safety.
“There has been discussion,” Kingsbury said. “Isaiah’s a guy who played multiple positions obviously there at Clemson, has a feel for some of that. With those bodies being down, we may have to look into that.”
The Cardinals lost safety Jalen Thompson plays into the season opener, saw replacement Chris Banjo leave Sunday’s 26-23 loss to Detroit with a hamstring issue and is expected to lose Pro Bowler Budda Baker next week at Carolina after he undergoes thumb surgery. Backup Kentrell Brice remains on the practice squad IR after suffering a leg injury during training camp.
Banjo is day-to-day, while Kingsbury said he’s hopeful Baker will miss only a single game.
Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported Monday that Arizona will bring in safety Tony Jefferson for a workout in the coming days. Jefferson spent 2013-16 with Arizona but is coming off an October ACL injury.
Or the Cardinals could turn to their rookie linebacker to fill the void.
Could that position switch happen this week at the snap of the finger?
Remember, Simmons through three games has only played at linebacker, where he’s had some successes and failures playing mostly alongside fellow ILBs De’Vondre Campbell and Jordan Hicks.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has sent the rookie to work with defensive backs in drills, but that is far from sitting him in the safety room on a daily basis. Joseph has maintained that Simmons take on more responsibilities at a slow pace and suggested that the rookie missed around 1,200 reps without a regular offseason of camps.
Still, the Cardinals might consider moving their first-round pick because the 6-foot-4, 235-pound athlete handled position changes well in college.
At Clemson last season, Simmons played nearly 600 snaps split between what Pro Football Focus labeled as inside backer and slot nickel. He also appeared for 232 snaps between the two safety spots. He would switch positions weekly depending on the gameplan and matchups.
So Arizona is not putting a move to safety — despite his lack of playing time at linebacker — out of the realm of possibility.
“I think he is unique in that there was somewhat of a comfort level playing multiple positions coming from Clemson,” Kingsbury said Monday. “He obviously has to learn an entirely new defense, new terminology, new scheme. He has a feel for multiple positions and I think that will help the learning curve.
“I know Vance is trying to kind of spoon-feed it here and there to not overload him, but he’s done a nice just so far picking things up. We just have to keep him coming. Without the offseason particularly, it made it tough on him, but he’s made big strides recently. We continue to try and get him more incorporated in the defense.”
In the meantime, hitting the free agency short-list could be an option with Baker out for Week 4’s visit to the Panthers.
Deionte Thompson, a 2019 fifth-round pick, stepped in for Banjo on Sunday and closed with four tackles. Recent practice squad pickup Curtis Riley also played 12 snaps, while safety Charles Washington, who is primarily a special teamer, rounds out the list of healthy safety bodies.
“I thought D.T. stepped in and had some good moments, had some things we got to get better at, but for the limited time he’s seen real live game action, I was proud of how he handled himself,” Kingsbury said. “We’ll see on Chris, kind of a day-to-day deal at this point.”
— It stood out that Chase Edmonds lined up as the starting running back instead of Kenyan Drake for Arizona in the loss to Detroit, but Kingsbury said it was about a personnel package for a play he wanted to run. Drake had 18 carries for 73 yards and added a six-yard reception, while Edmonds took three carries for 13 yards and had two catches for 21 more.
— Kingsbury reiterated he didn’t like the play-calling in the loss to the Lions and suggested it didn’t help the Cardinals get in a rhythm. As for Murray’s picks, the coach added that Murray was being aggressive. They don’t want that to stop.
“You got to walk that fine line,” Kingsbury said.