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No Isaiah Simmons at safety: Cardinals’ Thompson, Riley to start

Arizona Cardinals safety Deionte Thompson (22) tackles Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (88) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Sorry, Isaiah Simmons believers.

The Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick won’t be making a drastic move from inside linebacker to help an injury-hit safety group against the Carolina Panthers.

That’s not to say the Cardinals themselves are not believers in the versatile rookie. He could still be further incorporated into the defense this Sunday in Carolina.

It’s just a reminder that Simmons, who has played 35 snaps through three games, hasn’t yet practiced as a safety on a daily basis.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said second-year pro Deionte Thompson and sixth-year vet Curtis Riley will start Week 4 with injuries to Budda Baker (thumb), Jalen Thompson (ankle) and Chris Banjo (hamstring).

“We feel good about that,” Joseph said. “We have certain packages where we can put other guys at similar positions, but right now we feel very comfortable with those two guys who have been in camp with us and have run this system — for D.T. two years and for Curtis a month now. I think we’re at good shape at safety.

“I think D.T., he showed last week he did some good things in terms of tackling and covering — it wasn’t perfect,” Joseph added. “With Curtis, he’s played in games, he’s been a starter in this league.”

Might those “other guys at similar positions” include Simmons? It’s not out of the question.

Behind Thompson and Riley, the only other player listed safety is Charles Washington. And Joseph shut down the idea that Thursday’s practice squad addition, veteran safety T.J. Ward, could play this weekend.

“That move was made more for the future,” Joseph said.

Simmons has 14 coverage plays, three pass rushes and 18 snaps on running plays so far this year. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury suggested earlier in the week the team had discussions about moving the rookie to safety amid the rash of injuries.

Simmons was even caught in the open portion of practice working with and looking like a safety in drills.

It’s not the first time he’s dipped his toes into the defensive back waters, but following that visual, cornerback Patrick Peterson pumped the brakes on Simmons switching positions outright.

“We feel that we can get through the game with what we have right now at safety,” Peterson said Thursday. “We need to get (Simmons) comfortable at one position so he can play fast and continue to play on the field.

“I think playing at linebacker — for now — is best for him so he … can worry about going out and playing fast instead of doing all this thinking.”

Joseph was asked how long a theoretical move to safety would even take for Simmons, who, again, has not worked with that position group on a daily basis to this point.

“I’m not sure. We haven’t done that full-time with him,” Joseph said. “Isaiah’s done a good job of learning his role each week in the packages. It’s been multiple for Isaiah. He has a chance to do a couple things for us. We’ll see how the game unfolds.

“He has been locked in, he understands the entire system. He’s been different playing spots, so we’ll see how the game unfolds on Sunday, where he plays.”

Phillips Law Group

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