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Vance Joseph: Isaiah Simmons Is Linebacker, But Options Exist

Defensive coordinator looking forward to unit's upgrades

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (right) talks with linebacker Jordan Hicks on the sideline during a game in 2019.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (right) talks with linebacker Jordan Hicks on the sideline during a game in 2019.

Vance Joseph smiled during Tuesday's Zoom call with the media, when he was asked about the pressure he felt going into this season.

The Cardinals' defensive coordinator has been a head coach before. He understands the scrutiny. There is never not pressure.

"I want to be the best, and I want us to play top 10 defense," Joseph said. "The pressure is always there, but the pressure is always solved when you have four draft picks and having your two corners starting Week One for you.

"Everyone feels pressure in this business. That's part of it. … Last year, there were some rough moments, but I thought the last month of the season, we got better."

The Cardinals' defense also has gotten better in the offseason, with GM Steve Keim pledging to upgrade the unit, picking up key free agents and then spending the No. 8 overall draft pick on do-it-all Isaiah Simmons.

Simmons will play linebacker for the Cardinals, Joseph said, and it's unlikely he'll spend much time in the secondary. But, Joseph insisted, the Cards want to use Simmons in a similar all-encompassing role as he had at Clemson, as long as he shows he can fit in particular spots.

"He's a guy who can solve problems for us, and with his speed, he can be an eraser when bad plays happen," Joseph said.

Joseph acknowledged there could be parts to Simmons' Clemson game that won't translate to the NFL, that won't be realistic in the pros.

"With this kid's skillset, he can do a lot of things," Joseph said. "Until we touch it, until we gameplan, I can't guarantee where he is going to be.

"If it's a job that we think he can do, we will put him out there. That's why he was drafted. I want Isaiah to be Isaiah."

Simmons and the draft class aren't the only reasons Joseph has optimism. Having Patrick Peterson (suspension) and Robert Alford (injury) in line to return to the starting lineup Week One makes a difference. He also is bullish about the three headliners from the free-agent class.

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips played for Joseph in Miami and is only trending up, an arc that should continue under the tutelage of line coach Brentson Buckner.

"I don't think Jordan has hit his ceiling yet," Joseph said.

He also said that he thinks outside linebacker Devon Kennard can improve upon his seven sacks in the Cardinals' system. Inside linebacker D'Vondre Campbell – who has gotten lost a bit in the conversation, especially since Simmons was drafted – was actually the Cardinals' top free-agent target Joseph said, a player whom the Cards would be too expensive before Campbell eventually dropped his price for a one-year deal.

"We're not there yet, and we haven't even played any football," Keim said. "I can't tell you (the rebuild) is ultimately a success, but on paper I feel like we've done some good things. I feel like it'll help us and put Vance in a good spot. Last year I felt bad for coach Joseph because in some situations we just didn't have the right players or we had endured some injuries that put him in a tough spot."

There is reason for Joseph to be optimistic about what he has on paper. But he's coached long enough to know it'll be on the field that counts.

"We have to get through the offseason, we have to get through camp, and we have to go prove it," Joseph said.