Gannon: Cardinals determined to find role Isaiah Simmons can ‘really thrive in’

Feb 24, 2023, 11:01 AM
Arizona Cardinals star backer Isaiah Simmons (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)...
Arizona Cardinals star backer Isaiah Simmons (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Of the questions surrounding Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon, sits star backer Isaiah Simmons and where he factors in defensively.

The topic is nothing new for those who have watched Simmons move from position to position since entering the league as the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite being listed as an inside linebacker alongside Zaven Collins, the 2022 star backer has been far from a fixed presence at the position — or any others for that matter.

Could that all change in 2023?

“There’ll be a plan for every one of our players,” Gannon told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Friday when asked specifically about the star backer. “Part of that adaptability — it’s kind of a loaded word and I understand that — but how it relates to players is this: We need to get on the grass and get in the classroom and see what guys can handle and see what they can do physically in how it relates to how we’re going to structure the offensive, defense and special teams.

“But then you really just want to find spots for guys where they can really thrive in the role that they’re in.”

Working as a linebacker, cornerback and safety over the course of three seasons, Simmons has stuffed the stat sheet behind 258 tackles, 7.5 sacks, four interceptions, 11 QB hits, 16 passes defensed and seven forced fumbles in 50 career games (37 starts).

That’s not to say there haven’t been some noticeable growing pains with more being thrown on his plate the past two seasons on top of his demotion in playing time at the start of 2022 over practice habits.

But when it comes down to it, Simmons is a unicorn within Arizona’s defense. He can do a lot of different things that can flip a game on its head — Week 1 in Las Vegas was a prime example of that after Simmons helped complete an improbable comeback win over the Raiders behind a forced fumble that was returned for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

If there’s not a clear path or game plan for Simmons to traverse, though, his continued growth and impact defensively will surely take a hit.

That’s why it’s imperative Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis put their heads together this offseason to put Simmons — and the rest of the unit — in the best position to add wins to Arizona’s record and not be content with just padding stats when the regular season rolls around.

“I’ve been around a lot of players where what coaches were asking them to do, they weren’t comfortable with. That’s some adaptability,” Gannon said.

“You have to figure out the median of, ‘OK, here’s how you can help the team win’ because that’s most important, how you fit into the team. And then also we want you to be a really good player, too, and use your skillsets.”

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