With the last few weeks and days, Cardinals fans have heard and learned some interesting tidbits about the team’s plans on defense in 2020. Here are some of the highlights:
- Steve Keim has basically fallen on his sword to exonerate Vance Joseph for last year’s defensive failures: Keim said, “I walked away out of that press box every game and I vowed we would fix this defense. That’s what I felt like we did this offseason. I felt like we still had some work to do. We’re not there yet and we haven’t even played any football. I can’t tell you it’s ultimately a success, but on paper, I feel like we’ve done some good things.”
- More of Keim on Joseph: “The way the board fell and getting those defensive players I felt is really going to help us and put (defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph) in a good spot. Lat year, I felt bad for Coach Joseph because in some situations, we just didn’t have the right players or we’d endured some injuries that put him in a tough spot.”
- Upon signing WILB De’Vondre Campbell, Steve Keim and Vance Joseph lauded Campbell not only for his range and tackling ability (129 tackles in 2019 for the Falcons) but for being one of the best linebackers in the NFL at covering TEs.
- Joseph revealed recently that WILB De’Vondre Campbell was their #1 defensive target in free agency. The money Campbell was asking for on a multi-year contract was more than the Cardinals were willing to offer, so Campbell bet on himself in a one year prove-it deal with $6M guaranteed, plus incentives that could push the deal to $8.5M.
- Upon signing OLB Devon Kennard, Steve Keim described Kennard the perfect 34 SAM OLB for for the Cardinals because of how stout he is versus the run, how he gets good, solid pressure on the QB (14 sacks the past two seasons) and how he is a fabulous leader on and off the field.
- Upon drafting Isaiah Simmons, Steve Keim quipped to Vance Joseph something to the effect of “there—-now we have no excuses about covering TEs.”
- More of Keim on Simmons: “When you watch him on tape and you see him play the deep middle, the deep half, you see him play in the box, you see him blitz, rush the passer. He’s sort of a Swiss Army knife and does it all and we call that kind of a player an ‘eraser’ in this league.”
- Keim on the defensive players he selected in the 2020 NFL Draft: “We just got really good football players. Whether it’s Evan Weaver who had 180-something tackles, the proof is in the pudding right there, the guy is productive. No different from what I said Thursday, our first pick in Isaiah Simmons has rare and unusual measurables, but at the same time, he backs it up with his production. So, I feel like we got really good football players who are productive and, most importantly to us, have the football IQ and character that we want inside our building.”
- Keim said about DT Leki Fotu, “Reminded me a lot of Vita Vea (now with the Buccaneers) from the University of Washington. Big space-eater inside, tremendous quickness and athleticism for a big man. Really think he has tremendous upside and a guy that can do a number of things for us.”
- Keim said about DT Rashard Lawrence, “Alpha-male. Tough guy. Truly a mature leader and a guy that a national championship program looks to as one of the leaders of that group.. Really, really excited about him.”
- Keim on the Cardinals’ plan to play Isaiah Simmons: “to start him out at WILB.”
- With Jospeh having said that De’Vondre Campbell was the team’s #1 priority free agent are the Cardinals trying to groom Simmons as Campbell’s replacement if they can’t re-sign him in 2021?
- Vance Joseph’s plan: “(Simmons is) a guy who can stand up and rush on the edge as an outside backer, he can obviously cover tight ends, he can obviously walk over the slot as a nickel type of player. When they’re counting the box and we’ve got Haason Reddick out there, we’ve got Isaiah out there, we’ve got Campbell, we’ve got Jordan Hicks, we’ve got Chandler, we’ve got (tackle) Jordan Phillips, they have to declare who’s the fourth down (man) going to be.”
- Clearly, Vance Jospeh has meaningful plans for Haason Reddick this season. Joseph even raved about the possibility of having a 4 man speed rush in Simmons, Reddick, Phillips and Jones.
- The big questions about Isaiah Simmons playing linebacker in the 34 base are—if he starts—-who is the odd man out? Or—-will Simmons not start the games and be used primarily as a nickel LB?
- The Cardinals have committed: 3 years/$21M to SOLB Devon Kennard, 4 years/$36M to SILB Jordan Hicks, 1 year $6-8.5M to WILB De’Vondre Campbell and 5 years/$83M to WOLB Chandler Jones.
- From what Vance Jospeh was describing (and the names he included), it sounded like a nickel/sub-package scenario, with Simmons and Reddick in for Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell.
- The past couple of days we have been having a fascinating discussion (in the thread “What’s the Cardinals’ Plan for Isaiah Simmons?”) about at what position Joseph should play Simmons.
- BTW, my friends, the discussion on that thread is a tribute to how prolific a group of Cardinals’ fans we have here at ROTB. Man, that was some GREAT back and forth.
- Gungus and I have been arguing that, because (in our opinions) Simmons looked tentative at ILB in the NCG versus LSU, but played much faster, more productively and confidently at safety and on the edge, that he appears to be best suited to play safety, at least as a rookie.
- Rick Lord offered a fascinating thought that Simmons should play the SILB (MIKE) and the team should move Jordan Hicks over to WILB. Rick’s idea was further corroborated at the 7:00 mark of this Brett Kollmann video:
- Interesting that Kollmann and his cohort E.J. Snyder (Bears analyst) both liken Isaiah Simmons to the same player Steve Keim likened him to: Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, as most of you know, was a highly regarded safety/unicorn at New Mexico, whom the Bears drafted and turned into the alpha MIKE linebacker.
- Both Brett and E.J. acknowledge that Urlacher played in the NFL at 6-4 260 which is 20 pounds heavier than Simmons—-and it might be significant to add that Urlacher ran a 4.61 40—-Simmons a 4.39, Urlacher measured 34” in the vertical—-Simmons 39”. Urlacher 122” broad—-Simmons 132”.
- The cogent reason that Rick, E.J. and Brett makes for putting Simmons at the MIKE is so that by putting him in the middle of the field he can use his tremendous lateral speed to chase down every imaginable type of play within a 20 yard rectangle. They question, why limit him by lining him up to one side of the field.
- While this idea makes sense as a way to try to maximize Simmons’ athleticism, the questions that I have are: (1) if the Cardinals play Simmons at ILB do they have the horses up front to keep him clean? The additions of Jordan Phillips and Leki Fotu would appear to help that cause, but, it would likely mean starting three big tackles in Peters, Phillips and Fotu; (2) Does Simmons have the downhill mentality to attack the FB or RB in the hole on a consistent basis at inside linebacker? Yes, he is amazing chasing down plays laterally, but is he is classic downhill run stuffer? (3) So, if he plays inside, that means he will not be covering TEs—-so what’s the plan?
- Who would be assigned to cover the TEs? Joseph said that in games versus the 49ers, he could see switching Simmons to SS to cover TE George Kittle. Yes! That was great to hear—-but then the immediate thought is, well, it wasn’t just Kittle who gashed the 2019 defense, it was virtually every TE, even teams’ 2nd and 3rd string TEs.
- This is one of the major reasons why I believe that playing Simmons at SS and having him cover the opposing TEs would give the Cardinals the best chance to win in 2020—-at least for now until the team can add another skilled cover safety to play man-to-man. Perhaps this year Jalen Thompson can emerge as the K’Von Wallace cover safety that allowed Clemson to use Simmons in a host of other ways. But, we haven’t seen Thompson cover too many TEs just yet. We've seen Budda Baker battle Kittle, and Budda balled his butt off, but, as we know, Budda has trouble defending TEs who tower over him by 4-5 inches.
- Laguna Pat wrote the other day that we shouldn’t put a tag on Simmons. Coincidentally, we can laud Peter King for for his prescience in tabbing Simmons for the Cardinals at #8 in his pre-draft mock. Like Laguna Pat, King could not place a position tag on Simmons, deciding instead to tag him as “defensive player”. Here is what he wrote:
8. Arizona—Isaiah Simmons, defensive player, Clemson
“This is a first in Peter King Mock Draft History. I’ve never before labeled a player “defensive player.” Simmons has played strong safety, cornerback, slot corner, inside linebacker and outside linebacker, and he’s likely going to be a hybrid safety/linebacker/edge player in the NFL. Could be an instinctive pass-rusher too, which the Cardinals lack in a big way; he had 23 pressures on 70 pass-rushes. Now, the Cards have other needs, and Simmons doesn’t have a singular position. But he was a great and instinctive college player.”
King continued: “I believe GM Steve Keim just might look at this pick and remember the 2007 draft. Keim, the director of college scouting in Arizona at the time, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson when the Cards picked at number five in the first round. But the Arizona pick ended up being a tackle, Levi Brown, and Peterson came off the board two slots later, to Minnesota. Brown was an abject disaster with Arizona. Peterson is, well, the best back of the past 15 years. I’ve always seen Keim as a pick-the-best-player guy. And with the multiple defensive gifts of Simmons, he’d qualify as that if there at eight.”
- Ya think Peter King knows a little something about Steve Keim? What a great call.
- BTW—-if Steve Keim has proved one impressive thing more than anything else over the past year—-it’s his eagerness to try to correct past mistakes. Give the GM a lot of credit for not being “the system works” kind of leader.
- Therefore, when Vance Jospeh concluded his remarks about Isaiah Simmons by saying “I want Isaiah to be Isaiah”, at this point no one can be completely certain of what the ‘Isaiah being Isaiah” will look like.
- Simmons has said that his NFL vision of Isaiah Simmons is thriving in a “Tyrann Mathieu and Derwin James” role. But, Simmons should be more productive than Mathieu and James, seeing as Mathieu in 7 seasons has averaged 67.5 tackles, 2.8 interceptions, 1.3 sacks and 8.8 pass-defs a season. And in 21 games, Derwin James has produced 139 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions and 14 passes defs. That’s 6.6 tackles, 0.15 interceptions, 0.18 sacks and 0.7 passes defs a game.
- But—-one thing is for certain, and correct me if I am wrong—-if the Cardinals defense is getting toasted by a TE and Isaiah Simmons is not covering him—-Vance Jospeh is going to look awfully foolish. Like Steve Keim said—-”Now there are no excuses.”