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Isaiah Simmons Ready To Take His Star Turn In Cardinals' Defense

New position name, still big expectations for former first-round pick

Star-backer Isaiah Simmons (9) slaps hands with safety Jalen Thompson during a recent training camp practice.
Star-backer Isaiah Simmons (9) slaps hands with safety Jalen Thompson during a recent training camp practice.

Isaiah Simmons is a star.

OK, maybe the term should be "Star Backer" – that's what Vance Joseph is calling it, and the defensive coordinator still emphasizes Simmons is in the linebacker corps – but it's still not "inside" or "weakside" or "sam."

It's "star."

"I like the new name for it," Simmons said with a smile. "I feel like it's kind of fitting."

A new title was needed, because Simmons isn't going to be the kind of linebacker most guys become. He won't do linebacker things some of the time, and while he was already moving around the field in his first two seasons, there has been yet another shift to take advantage of his many talents.

Simmons said he was thankful for Joseph and his defensive mates for "working with me, just to be the best version of myself."

What exactly that looks like, no one will say. Keeping his exact duties close to the vest makes sense, as does the idea that what he might do on a week-to-week basis will change with the opponent and gameplan.

Simmons prefers to be further off the ball than he has been. At times the Cardinals' defense looks more like a 4-3, with Nick Vigil teaming up with Zaven Collins as inside linebackers and Simmons flaring out and back a little more often.

He'll be a linebacker, a safety, a dime back. He will rush the passer sometimes. There could be other spots, but, Joseph said, "I won't be sharing more than that."

For Simmons, moving him closer to the role he had in college is "common sense." Near the line of scrimmage, Simmons isn't as good diagnosing and reacting to plays; he acknowledged having a tough time reading pulling guards, for instance.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury smiled when asked what Simmons' position should be called – "Slash something?" he said – but there is little hiding the optimism of what Simmons can be entering his third season.

"We are trying to maximize what he is as a player," Kingsbury said.

Star-backer Isaiah Simmons leaps for the ball during a recent training camp practice.
Star-backer Isaiah Simmons leaps for the ball during a recent training camp practice.

It's interesting to note that the "Star" position isn't unheard of. The Rams have named a position on their defense just that, with Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey moving off his cornerback duties at times to roam the field.

Ramsey and Simmons are fundamentally different types of players, but the end result could still be the same.

Simmons has long downplayed the difficulty of learning different positions. Every play has a similar responsibility, it's just a matter of knowing who owns that responsibility with each call.

The former first-round pick knows the whispers – or louder – of what people think of his career thus far. He said it doesn't matter, but he hears.

"I really have always felt I was doubted," Simmons said. "I'm a three-star guy from Kansas. When I committed to Clemson everyone told me I was going to be a bench player, never play, just play on special teams. Obviously, I didn't care and took a leap of faith for what I wanted to do.

"I kind of felt the same way here. Everyone called me a bust, which I could care less about … the pressure, I enjoy the pressure because if nobody cared, if there was no pressure, I must not be doing something right."

Sacks? Yes, he wants those. Interceptions too, "and everything else under the sun," Simmons said.

"He made a lot of plays last year," Joseph said. "His numbers were off the chart last year. Now, he gave up too many plays last year in my opinion. He knows that."

Simmons has already made some plays in camp that have caught the eye, using length and athleticism to break up passes that would have sneaked over a normal defender's head, and grabbing an interception over the middle that took every bit of his 6-4 frame and impressive leaping ability.

Joseph loves that Simmons not only can tackle and chase and sack but that he can be good in coverage and he actually enjoys that task.

"Right now he's our Star-backer," Joseph said. "Whatever you want to call him. We'll see. That's what camp is for. How far we can go with playing certain spots. Right now it's just reaching for the stars and hope it's good enough."

Reaching for the stars with the Star.

Images from 2022 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium