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Isaiah Simmons Trying To Make Up For Lost Time

Second-year linebacker now the 'veteran' when teamed with Collins

LB Isaiah Simmons before a play against the Bills in a 2020 home game

It's not exactly FOMO, but Isaiah Simmons can't help but ask his rookie teammates how their recent minicamp went.

Rookie minicamp – any offseason on-field work, for that matter -- was something the 2020 first-round pick never experienced because of the pandemic.

"My goodness," the linebacker said. "Just seeing where all of them are compared to where I was at the exact same time of year, it's like night and day. As much as you may not want to go out there and do rookie minicamp, it's so beneficial. It seems like it has helped out all our rookies tremendously and I wish I would've had it."

Simmons' rookie season didn't play out like he or the Cardinals had hoped. No offseason work, no preseason games, and there was too steep of a learning curve. He ended up playing only 34 percent of the Cardinals' defensive snaps, with veterans De'Vondre Campbell and Jordan Hicks manning inside linebacker most of the season.

But he had highlights – a crucial interception in overtime against Seattle that led to a win, sacks of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton on the road – that showed the tools that made him a first-round pick. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was bullish about Simmons' play by the end of the season.

Then the Cardinals drafted fellow inside linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round in April, and the team made it clear to whomever was asking that Simmons and Collins, inexperienced as they may be, are expected to be the starters in the middle of the defense.

"We're making a concerted effort to get intelligent, high IQ players and these two guys, Zaven and Isaiah in the middle, they are the quarterbacks to our defense," linebackers coach Bill Davis said. "The same value we have as far as lining our defense up and making our checks, that's the hat Zaven is going to wear, and Isaiah is wearing.

"Thank God we have the offseason, thank God we have a rookie minicamp. Last year was so hard on Isaiah."

Frustration bubbled up on Simmons frequently last season. The unknown was an issue because he was a rookie, and the unknown of a pandemic year made it that much harder.

But, he acknowledged, "I don't like to make excuses. As much as I'd like to blame everything on that, I take it upon myself for what happened (last season)."

His expectations haven't changed. He was planning on making a big rookie impact, and now that just transfers to Year 2 – even as he brings Collins into the fold.

Scouring what is said in the media and on social media isn't Simmons' usual operation, but "you're going to hear some things" and he's noticed the backing he and Collins have already gotten from the organization publicly.

"It's a little bit of a learning curve for me, because now I'm helping the rookie out," Simmons said. "He's a really smart player, picks up things fast, and if he makes a mistake, he fixes it and makes sure it doesn't happen again. He's huge. Lot bigger than I thought, tree stumps for legs but moves fast and efficiently."

Collins said the two have already developed some chemistry, even in the little time they have spent together.

"He's given me a lot of tips on some of the playcalls, some of the things we're looking at," Collins said. "The inside stuff you can't really experience until you experience it, you know? Even though he's telling me stuff, I'm sure I'll mess some of it up, but it's something that has been super helpful to me."

Simmons knows whatever Collins can pick up now is important, because that time was lost to him a year ago.

"Last year was a little unorthodox for everybody," Simmons said. "Now moving into a role where I am helping a young guy out is a little strange because I am still learning myself. It's a challenge, but a challenge I like to have."

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