Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons demoted vs. Raiders, must earn role back
It took more than two years in the NFL, this past training camp and preseason included, for Isaiah Simmons to go from a developmental linebacker to the starring role fitting of a top-10 draft pick.
And it took 60 minutes of game action in that “star backer” role to lose it.
Simmons was one of the Arizona Cardinals who apparently did not practice well heading into Week 1, which ended with an embarrassing defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. And after Simmons practiced poorly and then got turned around by All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce in the season-opener, Simmons spent preparation for and gameday of Week 2 in the doghouse.
That is, before Simmons in overtime Sunday made a game-winning hit, forcing a fumble on Las Vegas Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow that turned into a walk-off touchdown for the Cardinals.
Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. scooped the loose ball and returned it 59 yards for the game-winning score.
“Isaiah, we asked him to practice better and (we) reduced his role this week and said, ‘Hey, you got to earn it back,'” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters after the Cardinals manufactured a halftime turnaround for the ages to beat the Raiders.
“I mean, he practiced his tail off. Best week of practice he’s had as a pro. It showed up, he made the biggest play of the game. Just really proud of him and really attacking that challenge like he did.”
Whether Simmons snaps back into that starting linebacker role remains to be seen.
On Sunday in the 29-23 win, Simmons played only 15 snaps against Las Vegas, which was 22% of the defensive plays available.
Meanwhile, at mike linebacker, second-year pro Zaven Collins played 100% of the reps. Based on packages, he spent time alongside fellow inside linebackers Nick Vigil (26 snaps, 39%), Tanner Vallejo (20 snaps, 30%) and Ben Niemann (seven snaps, 10%).
Simmons’ expected versatile role also lost some opportunities to a full rotation of outside linebackers and nickel corner Jace Whittaker, a practice squad call-up Saturday who appeared in 45 snaps (67%).
Kingsbury, in his postgame locker room speech to the team, made a point to shout out Simmons after the game.
But the head coach used the moment to teach the rest of his team a lesson.
“This guy didn’t get to play as much as he wanted this week. He came out at practice, practiced his (expletive) off,” Kingsbury told the Cardinals. “That’s how you respond. You earn (expletive) back. Right? You go practice your (expletive) off, you come back and you do it better.”
Kliff Kingsbury's Komeback Kids. pic.twitter.com/q2bAJFHSjO
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 19, 2022