You absolutely must see this video—-courtesy of Alex Rollins. Do yourself the favor and watch the whole thing right now, before you read the article. While you are watching this outstanding showcase of Simmons’ game, ask yourself—-what plan should the Cardinals have for Isaiah Simmons as a rookie?
As you saw, Alex Rollins poses the most critical question regarding Simmons’ assimilation into the NFL—-is it better to commit Simmons to one position? Or—-is it better to have him play multiple positions and roles like he did at Clemson?
What I loved hearing from Simmons in his recent press conference is how much he thrives on structure. It’s rare to hear a young player today herald the importance of structure the way Simmons does—-particularly seeing as he played such an varied and unpredictable role on the Clemson defense from week to week.
One week, if DC Brent Venables wanted to have Simmons play more snaps at linebacker, he would have Simmons practice all week with the linebackers. The next week, if Venables wanted Simmons to play a mix of CB and safety (both SS and FS), then Venables would have Simmons practice all week with the defensive backs.
Venables is one smart cookie. Knowing how Isaiah Simmons thrives on structure, instead of bouncing him around to different positions groups each week, Venables helped Simmons take the necessary amounts of preps and reps in one position group so as to hone Simmons’ skills, to enhance his chemistry with the group and to fuel his confidence for that week’s game plan.
I believe that Isaiah Simmons is such a uniquely talented player that the Cardinals coaches should build the team’s defense around him.
But, they can’t do that in year one. It’s too soon.
It is better for the Cardinals and for Simmons to have him focus on learning and playing one position this year.
To me, that one position is an easy call—-they should play Simmons at safety.
For one, the team just spent $6M (and possibly $2.5M more in incentives) on WILB De’Vondre Campbell. Campbell had 129 tackles with the Falcons last year and the Cardinals are counting on him to do the same or even better with them.
If the Cardinals were to try to trade Campbell, they have already paid $5M toward the $8.5M—-thus—-are they really just going to throw that $5M away? What if Campbell turns out to be a star at WILB?
Steve Keim has indicated that he wants Simmons to start out at WILB. if so, are the Cardinals really going to have Simmons sit behind Campbell?
Simmons says he’s happy to play anywhere, but he also says with great enthusiasm that he fashions his game around the games of Tyrann Mathieu and Derwin James.
Which is another reason why, the Cardinals should play Isaiah Simmons at safety.
They should start him and rarely, if ever, take him off the field.
Playing Simmons at safety makes a great deal of sense in pass coverage because they can assign him to cover the other team’s TE or match him up on a WR in the slot or on a RB coming out of the backfield—-those are the typical man to man assignments that DCs give to strong safeties.
At strong safety Simmons can be a huge factor in zone coverage, where he can cover the flats, the hook zones, or even invert off the snap to the deep middle the awesome way he does in one play on this video. Did you see that?
There will be times when it will be wise to use Simmons as a deep 1⁄2 safety—-that’s one of his greatest strengths and he can be an immediate factor in that role.
The Cardinals like to flip flop their safeties and Simmons is already used to doing that. How about the interception he made versus Ohio St.—-from the middle of the field to the sideline in a blur. That is rarefied air, my friends.
On most downs however, Simmons should play SS in or near the box. On top of his standard coverage responsibilities, he can be sent on a variety of blitzes (where the FS picks up his man)—-and he can be used to force the run and chase down sweeps and screens.
The Cardinals should see how Simmons plays at safety first—-it would be his easiest and most natural transition. Then, they should see how De’Vondre Campbell handles the WILB position. Then the Cardinals can assess the future of the defense from there. Imagine if both Simmons and Campbell thrive in this year’s defense. Man—-the possibilities!