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Cardinals May Try Isaiah Simmons At Safety

Injuries to Budda Baker and others causing shortage at the position

Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons, shown here in a regular season game against the Detroit Lions, could see time at safety due to injuries.
Rookie first-round pick Isaiah Simmons could see time at safety due to several injuries at the position.

Clemson moved Isaiah Simmons all over the field last season by choice.

The Cardinals may have to do so out of need.

The safety position has been slammed by injuries in the first three weeks, as starters Budda Baker (thumb) and Jalen Thompson (ankle) won't play against the Panthers in Week 4 and the availability of reserve Chris Banjo (hamstring) is in doubt.

Simmons has been practicing exclusively at inside linebacker since the Cardinals made him the No. 8 overall pick in April's draft but coach Kliff Kingsbury said there have been recent conversations about playing him at safety to shore up the spot.

"Isaiah is a guy who played multiple positions, obviously, there at Clemson," Kingsbury said. "He has a feel for some of that. With those bodies being down, we may have to look into that."

Simmons has only played 35 defensive snaps through three games, as veterans Jordan Hicks and De'Vondre Campbell have been the full-time components at inside linebacker.

Simmons excelled as a safety in college, playing there the majority of the time while also seeing time at linebacker. At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, he is larger than a traditional safety, which will be a test in coverage against wide receivers.

There is also the mental jump, as Simmons was already trying to learn the NFL game at one position and now may add another to his plate.

"He obviously has to learn an entirely new defense, new terminology, new scheme, but he has a feel for multiple positions, and I think that will help the learning curve," Kingsbury said. "Without the offseason, particularly, it made it tough on him, but he's made big strides recently and we'll continue to try and get him more incorporated in the defense."

The Cardinals could have another familiar option available at safety, as Tony Jefferson is reportedly going to work out for the team, according to 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station (Kingsbury would not confirm the report). Jefferson joined the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and became a key starter before signing a lucrative deal with the Ravens in 2017. Jefferson was released by Baltimore this offseason following a torn ACL and has yet to latch on anywhere.

(UPDATE: Jefferson is reportedly not healthy enough to play.)

The Cardinals are reportedly bringing in veteran T.J. Ward for a tryout.

Whether it is Simmons, Ward or another option, the Cardinals will try to plug the major hole left by Baker, who needed surgery on his thumb. Kingsbury told Arizona Sports that he hopes Baker will be back after one week, "but you never know with those things."

Baker leads the Cardinals with 28 tackles and is an integral piece against the run and the pass.

"He's one of the best players in the league and makes a lot of things right defensively when he's back there," Kingsbury said. "We'll see how the procedure goes and take it from there, but hopefully sooner rather than later on (a return to action)."

Thompson is eligible to return from injured reserve as early as the Week 5 game against the Jets but it is unknown if he will be healthy.

Deionte Thompson and recently-signed Curtis Riley played a substantial amount against the Lions, and even if the Cardinals add some pieces to the safety position, could be involved for the foreseeable future. Thompson was the Cardinals' fifth-round pick in 2019.

"I thought D.T. stepped in and had some good moments and had some things we need to get better at," Kingsbury said. "But for the limited time he's seen real live game action, I was proud of how he handled himself."

Images from the Week 3 matchup against Detroit