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Cardinals Figure Out Safety Starters As Isaiah Simmons Waits

Notes: Hopkins, Kennard not at practice; Joseph happy with pass rush

The Cardinals are still looking for ways to integrate rookie Isaiah Simmons, but they will start Deionte Thompson and Curtis Riley at safety Sunday.
The Cardinals are still looking for ways to integrate rookie Isaiah Simmons, but they will start Deionte Thompson and Curtis Riley at safety Sunday.

Jalen Thompson was already sidelined, Budda Baker had thumb surgery and Chris Banjo has all but been ruled out with a bad hamstring, leaving the Cardinals in a lurch at safety.

It's not an ideal situation for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who said Thursday his starters at the position Sunday in Carolina will be second-year man Deionte Thompson and veteran Curtis Riley, who wasn't signed until Jalen Thompson got hurt.

As for rookie Isaiah Simmons, any true stint he might have at safety – a move that was discussed because of all the injuries -- seems to be on hold.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson said Simmons hasn't worked at safety this week, and Joseph said the Cards have yet to work with Simmons full-time at the spot.

"Isaiah has done a good job learning his role each week and the packages," Joseph said. "He has a chance to do a couple things for us this week. We'll see how the game unfolds but he has been locked in, he understands the entire system, he is playing multiple spots and we'll see how the game unfolds on Sunday where he plays."

Veteran T.J. Ward, signed to the practice squad Thursday, has not been around long enough to be an option Sunday, Joseph said, calling the addition of Ward for the future.

As for Simmons, Peterson echoed Joseph's oft-repeated thoughts that the rookie is better off concentrating on what he was already doing rather than transitioning all the way to a new position.

"I believe we have enough guys right now on the back end that we feel we can get through this game with what we have right now at safety," Peterson said. "We know Isaiah can play multiple positions but we need to get him comfortable at one position so he can play fast and stay on the field."

Joseph said the Cardinals "feel good" about using Deionte Thompson – who has been learning the system since he arrived last year – and Riley, who has started in the NFL and had a four-interception season for the Giants.

The hope is that Baker might only miss a game or two before playing with his thumb casted up. Banjo will be week-to-week, and Jalen Thompson is eligible to return from injured reserve as soon as next week.

"The entire league is going through major injuries right now," Joseph said. "It's our turn at safety. I think at safety, if you have two guys that understand what they are doing and they run and play hard and tackle and keep the ball in front of them, that's a spot where you can get away with guys being injured."


Both wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) and linebacker Devon Kennard (calf) didn't practice Thursday, after both missed Wednesday's practice. Hopkins usually sits out Wednesday practices anyway, and his history has been one of a player who doesn't miss games – he only missed two games in the first seven seasons of his career.

"I'm not a doctor, I don't know how to diagnose or assess injuries," fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We need him. We need him for his playmaking abilities. He's got a tremendous start, his rapport with Kyler (Murray) has been spectacular through the first three weeks.

"We need him. We need him bad."

The team's secondary woes also took another potential blow with the addition of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to the injury report limited with a head injury, while linebacker Tanner Vallejo was DNP because of illness. Center Mason Cole (hamstring), linebacker Dennis Gardeck (foot) and wide receiver Christian Kirk (groin) were also limited.

For the Panthers, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (illness) sat out. Tackle Russell Okung (groin), safety Jeremy Chinn (hip), guard Dennis Daley (ankle) and linebacker Adarius Taylor (hip) were limited.


Statistically, Chandler Jones isn't off to the start he was hoping, with one sack in three games. But the attention he is drawing has made a difference. The Cards have 11 sacks as a team, with four in each of the past two games.

"That's hard to achieve in this league," Joseph said. "If you watch the third downs and the passing downs, everyone is sliding (protection) to Chandler, chipping Chander (on blocks). We have to find a way to free him up this week."

That's to be expected, given Jones' 19 sacks a year ago. But the rest of the defense has stepped forward – Haason Reddick, Corey Peters, Jordan Phillips and Kennard each have two sacks each. Teams are only converting 28.6 percent of their third downs against the Cardinals – the best third-down defense in the league.

"So far so good with our rush plan," Joseph said.