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Isabella’s and Thompson’s Divergent Paths to Arizona

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Rookie Minicamp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a fun morning for me. I first watched the Cardinals Draft episode of the “Flight Plan.” That gave me a 6 AM buzz.. Then I began watching the rookies’ press conferences, starting with Zach Allen’s, then Deionte Thompson’s and now i just finished watching Andy Isabella’s. On Wednesday, I wrote an in-depth piece about Zach Allen, thus today I want to turn my attention to Andy Isabella and Deionte Thompson.

What jumps out at me right away is how completely different Isabella’s and Thompson’s paths were to the NFL.

I would like to start with Deionte.

What was illuminating about his press conference was the reason behind his decision to choose Alabama over LSU and Florida St. In discussing the decision with his father (it should be noted that Deionte was committed to Alabama since his sophomore year in high school, but, as with any college football recruit, he could back out on signing day) the dilemma was being able to play right away at LSU or Florida St. or patiently wait for his turn to play at Alabama.

Deionte said that he ultimately chose Alabama because his top priority was to compete for national championships.

When he was a freshman, Nick Saban moved Deionte to WR---a move that Deionte said was a godsend because by learning what WRs “want to do” to get open and to score TDs, it helped him to attack and jump WRs better as a FS.

Imagine this---Deionte basically had to work hard for three years while sitting on the depth chart behind All-Americans such as Ronnie Harrison and Minkah Fitzpatrick, before he got his first two starts at the end of the 2017 season.

In this way---Deionte has much in common with Kyler Murray. For anyone who knows the full-year grind and pressure of playing in a college program, it takes a special kind of person to wait patiently behind other players.

Plus, as Deionte pointed out in terms of the standards of accountability that Nick Saban demands from his players and the fact that “he (Saban) ripped my a--- every day,” Deionte knew that, when his time came, if he didn’t seize the day, there were top recruits sitting behind him ready to go.

But---Deionte Thompson was ready---so ready, in fact, that in his one full-year as the starting FS he tackled and covered so well that he was lauded as a 1st Team All-American, just as Harrison and Fitzpatrick previously were.

What Thompson learned about the NFL Draft is how cruel it can be. The one game where Thompson made a couple of glaring mistakes was versus Clemson in the NCAA Championship. Then, he had the wrist injury which prevented him from being a full participant at the NFL Combine---where some teams became concerned about a possibly degenerative knee condition (that came as a surprise to him).

It’s a good thing that Deionte learned patience at Alabama because imagine what it must have felt like to be in many scouts’ eyes the most talented “single post” FS in the draft, and watch 13 safeties get taken before him and watch a potential late 1st or early 2nd projection wither away into the start of the 5th round.

Deionte said he cried when the Cardinals called--- but “for 2.9 seconds”---which was all he would allow himself because of the chino his shoulder. But then he showed a special kind of grace when he said how he allowed himself “to feel happy to hear my name called, which was a dream come true for all the hard work that got me here.”

Genuinely thankful and excited to be a new member of the Cardinals, Deionte is eager compete for his spot and to learn from players he looks up to like Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger. He also credited Rashad Johnson who helped coach him, particularly in film study last year at Alabama.

Deionte said he can play both SS and FS, because Nick Saban trained him at both positions. Nick Saban is like the Bill Belichick of college coaches when it comes to coaching up defensive backs.

A couple of years ago, I and a number of Cardinals’ fans were hoping the Cardinals would draft Ohio St. FS Malik Hooker in the 1st round. Amazingly, the Cardinals just drafted Deionte Thompson in the 5th round and Thompson has every bit the anticipation, speed and range that Hooker has. Thompson is a bigger hitter, but need to improve his hands for his hands to be on a lofty par as Hooker’s.

Conversely, Andy Isabella had only one NCAA Division 1A offer. He said that he has always been discounted because of his lack of height. But, not only did Isabella want to play Division 1A college football, no matter where he went---his goals was to make it to the NFL.

What stands out about Isabella is that his work ethic is much like Kliff Kingsbury’s. The omelet chef at UMass stated that Andy was with her at 7 AM every morning. The UMass S&C coach stated that whenever it snowed he would go and plow the field in Amherst so that Andy could perform his daily workouts. And the one time the coach was unable to plow the field, Isabella did his own shoveling.

When asked why he was able to have such big games against the likes of Georgia and the top programs on their schedule, Andy first said that “showing up every game is always the goal,” but then said that he fed off the electric energy of the crowds, like the one in Athens, Georgia.

If you watched Andy’s presser, he said a number of times that his goal each morning is to wake up and make a “conscious effort” to improve his game and his fitness. Prior to the Senior Bowl, Andy endured grueling workouts with legendary NFL legend Randy Moss---who would make Andy run 10 routes in a row, then run some added sprints---and then come back to run more routes. Yes sir, Andy Isabella “GOT MOSSED!”

Thus, now that Andy is a member of the Cardinals, we can see why Kliff Kingsbury was so pumped up to draft Andy with the #62 pick that they acquired in the Josh Rosen trade. It’s not only that Andy was the most productive WR in Division 1A college football this past year, or that he was #30 highest ranked player on the PFF board, or that he ran a blistering 4.31 40 at the NFL Combine---it’s Andy’s insatiable work ethic and stamina that Kingsbury knows could make him a shining star in the Cardinals’ new offense.

It’s one thing to be able to outrun someone, but it’s another thing to outwork everyone.

Andy Isabella’s and Deionte Thompson’s journeys to the NFL were vastly different ones, but both of them had one key thing in common---they came from college programs with head coaches who previously coached in the NFL and whose premium strengths were in developing ;players at their positions. Just as playing for defensive back guru Nick Saban a boon for Deionte, Andy was able to thrive under the leadership of offensive passing game guru, Mark Whipple. Andy thanked his coach for drawing up 1-2 “jet sweeps” for him very game and for “the great job Coach Whip did for blocking them up.”

Both Andy and Deionte are excited about the “energy” at the Cardinals headquarters and today is the first day they get to help each other grow into bona fide NFL playmakers under the brightest of lights.