Cardinals rookie Isaiah Simmons kept confidence while playing catch-up

Nov 24, 2020, 4:45 PM

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons #48 of the Arizona Cardinals warms up before the NFL game against the Buf...

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons #48 of the Arizona Cardinals warms up before the NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Bills 32-30. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons knew what he didn’t know. He was quite aware that a pandemic took away what Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has estimated at 1,200 offseason and preseason snaps.

He was told by coaches, family and teammates to be patient. And he knew that the NFL is not the same as college football.

For the rookie No. 8 pick, none of that made it less frustrating that he took more than half the 2020 season to see the playing field on a semi-regular basis.

“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough for me,” Simmons said Tuesday.

The inside linebacker is coming off a career-high 45-snap game last Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks. He recorded career highs with 10 total tackles, two for loss, plus his first sack as a professional.

Now, he’s played 30 or more snaps in each of the last three games. A calf injury to starting linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has lingered the last two games, forcing Simmons to play as more than a utility man. In place of Campbell, Simmons has showed consistency and proved general manager Steve Keim correct — he very much looks like an impact starter.

There didn’t appear to be a moment of reckoning in how Simmons handled the limited opportunities earlier this season. He had the expectations to be the starter from Day 1, Joseph said, and his inability to help the team win nagged at him.

That Simmons didn’t even have game film to explain why he wasn’t playing bothered the rookie, even though he’d been through it before as a little-used reserve to start his college career at Clemson.

“Keeping happiness and peace within myself was, you know, different,” he said. “I’m a really big critic of myself so trying to figure out why things were happening, in my mind it’s like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ It wasn’t much of what I did wrong. It was more of just being patient and being able to learn the differences within this league.

“I just kind of relied on myself and kept believing in myself. Once you lose self-confidence, it’s hard to come back from that.”

Arizona’s Week 7 game against the Seahawks before a bye played a pivotal role in Simmons’ season thus far.

His overtime interception of Russell Wilson to set up the Cardinals’ game-winning field goal sparked more confidence.

“From that moment on, it’s definitely changed for Isaiah,” Joseph said.

Simmons said Tuesday he thinks the play did that as well — but he also believes it bought more opportunities from the coaching staff.

Campbell’s injury two games back then allowed for Joseph to sub his starter with a rookie first-round pick, who in the past two games looks caught up after the limited offseason.

“I’ve just kind of been thinking, pretty much the whole year, all I need is just some consecutive snaps so I can get comfortable and feel the flow of the game,” Simmons said. “I feel like ever since I’ve got consecutive snaps that I’ve been able to find a comfort level within the game, and feel the flow of it and be able to be myself and just play.”


— Jalen Thompson suffered a second tweaked ankle on Thursday and will likely miss at least a game. The loss might be compounded with fellow second-year pro Deionte Thompson going on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday. “We’re not sure yet about Jalen,” Joseph said. “That’s the second time he’s had a tweaked ankle. It may be a week or two before he returns

“I feel bad for Jalen because he was playing good football, he was just back for two weeks (from the prior ankle injury), and he was getting better and better each snap. To lose him again, that’s hard for us, obviously, but harder for Jalen.”

— Joseph on the addition of veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko: “He’s a huge get for us … He’s played for me before (Bengals, 2014-15; Broncos, 2017-18) so the learning curve is going to be short.

“He came in two days ago and didn’t make one mistake, so that’s huge for our young guys to watch him work and watch how he communicates up front. He played good football last year for Baltimore.”

Presented By
Western Governors University

Arizona Cardinals

Rome Odunze celebrates...

Tyler Drake

Jeremiah: Cardinals can’t go wrong with any of top 3 WR NFL Draft prospects

When it comes down to the top three wide-receiving draft prospects,'s Daniel Jeremiah sees nothing but No. 1 WR potential.

10 hours ago

Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort...

Kevin Zimmerman

All eyes on 2024: Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort talks NFL Draft philosophy

While Marvin Harrison Jr. is the prize, Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort is keeping his pick options open in the 2024 NFL Draft.

18 hours ago

Frankie Luvu takes the field...

Tyler Drake

Frankie Luvu viewed as best free agent fit for Cardinals by ESPN’s Bowen

When it comes to adding top free agent talent, ESPN writer Matt Bowen sees ILB Frankie Luvu as the best fit for the Arizona Cardinals.

1 day ago

Cardinals helmet...

Tyler Drake

Report: Cardinals part ways with VP of player personnel Quentin Harris

The Arizona Cardinals have reportedly parted ways with vice president of player personnel and former player Quentin Harris.

1 day ago

Malik Nabers stiff arms a defender...

Tyler Drake

Cardinals add Malik Nabers, Robinson in Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock NFL Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's latest mock draft has the Cardinals improving both sides of the ball with their pair of first-round picks.

2 days ago

Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade...

Associated Press

2 adults charged with murder in deadly shooting at Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade

Two men have been charged with murder in the shooting that killed one person and injured 22 others after Kansas City's Super Bowl parade.

2 days ago

Cardinals rookie Isaiah Simmons kept confidence while playing catch-up