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Isaiah Simmons Hoping To Lead The Way For Cardinals' Defense

Linebacker heads into his third season focused on accountability

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons (9) yells encouragement to his defensive teammates during a recent OTA.
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons (9) yells encouragement to his defensive teammates during a recent OTA.

Isaiah Simmons is only 23, and only going into his third season, but he sees himself as a leader for the Cardinals just like he's been his whole life.

The linebacker still jumps on teammates when he feels it's needed, even if most players his age around the league might hesitate.

"I don't have a problem with saying something to someone because I'm not here to be anyone's friend," Simmons said. "We're all here to get the Lombardi trophy.

"If you don't like what I'm saying, you're in here for the wrong reasons because I don't say anything to call anyone out. It's just for the betterment of us."

Leadership -- and the confidence to be a leader -- comes with comfort in his role, coach Kliff Kingsbury said. Beyond that, growing into an all-pro is reachable for the 2020 eighth pick overall, Kingsbury added.

"To be that guy, you have to do everything right all the time," Kingsbury said. "You got to have a great work ethic and understand the system inside and out. He understands where he has to get, to have that type of credibility on the field."

Though Simmons' rookie season was a learning experience, he finished the year strong. Last season, he took on a larger role in playing 92 percent of the defensive snaps, third-highest on the team behind safety Budda Baker and linebacker Jordan Hicks. Simmons had 105 tackles, third most behind Hicks and safety Jalen Thompson.

The Cardinals took full advantage of Simmons' versatile skill set, too. According to his snap count in 2021, including the postseason, Simmons was used:

  • 596 snaps at inside linebacker
  • 237 snaps at edge rusher
  • 165 snaps at slot corner
  • 24 snaps at outside cornerback
  • 2 snaps at free safety

Simmons enjoys taking the field at different positions outside of inside linebacker; he finds it helpful since it gives him more knowledge conceptually about the defense. The thought of where he could be had he stuck to one spot is something he doesn't ponder about; his mind is only worried about fulfilling his expectations.

"My expectation is to be the best in the game, ever," Simmons said. "I don't ever want to sell myself short. Why not dream big? Why not want to be the best player ever to touch the NFL? Until I reach that, I won't stop working."

Like last season, Simmons can help the defense in a variety of ways. He can help set the edge to get pressure on the quarterback, drop into the slot or even play some safety if needed.

Still, the major element in their success defensively will factor in Simmons and Zaven Collins playing well together as the starting inside linebackers. Like Simmons, Collins was selected in the first round in 2021 as the future. Collins was slated to start with Simmons last year, but was beaten out for the job by Hicks and was primarily used on special teams.

Simmons said Collins seems more comfortable this offseason, which is essential considering the responsibility they will carry together.

"Just being two young guys controlling the defense, I feel like our chemistry together is important," Simmons said.

"I had to get after him a little last week, just telling him, 'Come on now, we don't get time to be B.S.-ing around.' The mistakes we made before, we have to limit them and make new mistakes moving forward. It wasn't something he wanted to hear, but he realized I was telling him for our betterment. Everyone is just trying to get that Super Bowl."

Although Simmons has found a groove as a young leader on the field, the task of adjusting to adult life off the field hasn't been as enjoyable.

"I'm trying to find days when I'm not spending any money," Simmons said. "It's always a bill or something you have to take care of as an adult. Being an adult is fun but it sucks, too."

Images from the last day of Cardinals minicamp in 2022