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It became as clear as day Tuesday after the Cardinals completed their first of two minicamp practices and fourth-year pro Isaiah Simmons talked to the media.
Ever since a new coaching staff was hired following the 2022 season, there had been little clarity on the plan for how Simmons would be deployed in the new defense.
After the Cardinals elected not to exercise the fifth-year option in his contract worth over $12 million by May 2, Simmons was consistently working with the defensive backs during the OTA open to the media.
Tuesday, the cat was officially out of the bag when Simmons stated simply, “Moving forward, I’ll be with the defensive backs.”
Last season, in calculations by Pro Football Focus, Simmons played 513 snaps at safety or cornerback, mostly in nickel situations, in addition to 274 at inside linebacker and 110 at outside linebacker.
When asked if he envisions being utilized at times at linebacker, Simmons said, “Only time can tell. It’s a new defense and personally, I’d like to master defensive back first before I dive into going with the outside linebackers or whatever else could come about. I’d like to be a master at least at everything in the secondary before I get to go in other places.”
As for filling multiple roles within the context of the secondary depending on down-and-distance and game situations, he acknowledged, “There could be more things that come about due to game planning and whatnot, but as of right now we’ve been just installing the base playbooks, just trying to get everybody learning and getting everyone familiar with the terminology, the checks, just the small nuances within the defense, so again only time will tell with that.”
There was a slow start to his on-field work because of a residual shoulder injury from last season, but an enthused Simmons said, “I’m healthy, I feel like I got a real good grasp of the playbook. Everybody in the building is real cool. Everybody’s new who we’ve added, players, staff-wise, so I’m doing good.”
Simmons did mention there has been “some carryover” from the scheme he played while at Clemson and said, “So just bringing back some old memory of things that we called and stuff. So I feel like that’s actually really kind of helped me just move along a lot faster.”
Knowing this will be a contract year with him scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March, Simmons said, “Personally, I go about every year as a contract year. I just couldn’t imagine somebody would go out there and not try to have the best season they could possibly have. Regardless if I’m going to get paid after this year or whenever, I’m going to go out there and just do the best I can for my team and do whatever I can do.”
Coach Jonathan Gannon has been nothing but positive about Simmons whenever asked about him during the offseason.
“This guy wants to play and be a premier player for us and make a bunch of plays and help us win games,” Gannon said. “There’s not a guy that I’ve met that doesn’t want to play well. But now, the steps that you have to take to do that, that’s a process for everybody.”
While he is still listed as a linebacker on the team roster (which could change when training camp opens), when the club’s social media account posted the audio of his Tuesday media conference, it listed him as a safety.
With the expected return of safety Budda Baker, who was present at the minicamp but did not practice although he was on the field Wednesday, it creates many possibilities for how a safety group with Baker, Simmons and Jalen Thompson could be utilized.
As for Baker being around for the first time this offseason, Simmons said, “It was like last year. Budda’s being Budda. He’s a leader. Everybody loves Budda. Real happy to see him. He’s a brother to me. He’s a friend to me.”
Referencing his contract situation and apparent effort to receive a new contract, Simmons said, “What he does with his career, his profession is ultimately up to him.”
But when asked about the safety trio he’s now a part of, Simmons said, “I really think there’s not anything we can’t do. I feel like we’re all, not just me, I feel like J.T. is very versatile, Budda as well. Budda’s not your typical-size safety back there, especially the way he plays. He’s more of a hammer not a nail. So we all can bring a lot to the table, but at the same time we all bring something different to the table.
“So that’s why I really feel like the sky is the limit for us. I feel like we can be the best group in the NFL easily. We just have to put the work in, put our minds to it.”
While there has been a lot of adjustment for Simmons in the offseason, another was the departure of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who also played in college at Clemson.
“It’s a business, so it was going to happen one day,” Simmons said. “But to leave me as a brother and as a friend, that’s probably what hurt me the most. He’s my closest friend here; probably ever since Day 1 when we ran into each other and we’ve been hanging out together really ever since. Moreso like a big brother to me opposed to like a friend. I hate to see him go, but I’m really happy for what his future’s going to be. I know he’s going to be great wherever he ends up, wherever he lands.
“They’re lucky to get a guy like him locker-room wise, on-the-field wise. Just a leader for young guys to look up to. Whoever’s getting him is getting a real special guy, one-of-a-kind guy on and off the field so it’s tough to see him go. Everybody here, I’m sure we wanted to see 10 back out there, the selfish part of us does, but the brother in me wants to see him be able to go out and achieve things that he maybe hasn’t achieved yet, which is a lot coming from a guy like him. I’m excited but also a little sad about it.”
When asked if he’d like to match up against Hopkins, the competitive Simmons said, “Hell yeah. That would be fun. I’ve gone against him in practice and he does nothing but get me better because just when I think I got him, he’s got some tricks up his sleeve. So in a game would be even better because I’d get to really study him and game-plan against him.”
Simmons said he learned a lot from Hopkins during the persistent speculation about his situation throughout the offseason.
Asked how he thought Hopkins handled it, he said, “Like a professional. He knows what kind of person I am; like I observe a lot so I’m always watching regardless. Even when you think I’m not watching, I’m probably watching what you’re doing, so I know he had that in the back of his mind and he handled it like a professional.
“There wasn’t really no drama. Of course, the questions came but I feel like there was really no better way he could have handled it. From what I know about him and our staff, they still have a great relationship. There wasn’t any bad blood or anything. I’m pretty sure everything was all mutual and he showed me really how to go about things in a business way in a positive manner.”
Simmons on the team’s coaching staff not being as “old-school” as previously: “Our staff is very young. Football changes as much as people say it doesn’t. Maybe they see things moreso like us as opposed to the old-school way. Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing because you have coaches like (Kansas City’s) Andy Reid. I feel like he’s more of an old-school coach and they kick ass, so it’s not really a bad thing.”
Training camp six weeks away
The Cardinals announced the open practice schedule for fans Thursday with the first one at State Farm Stadium on July 27. Also announced was the procedure for acquiring free tickets.
While both parking and admission are free, digital tickets will be required for entry into each practice and once reserved, will be accessible via the Cardinals mobile app. To download the app, visit www.azcardinals.com/app.
Starting Monday, July 17 at 10 am (Arizona time), Cardinals season-ticket holders will have the first opportunity to reserve training camp tickets utilizing the account manager function at www.azcardinals.com/am. All others may reserve tickets starting at 10 am on Wednesday, July 19 by visiting www.azcardinals.com/camptix. Individuals may secure up to four free tickets for practices while supplies last.
Thursday, 7/27 1:15-2:30 pm
Friday, 7/28 1:45-3:15 pm
Saturday, 7/29 1:15-2:45 pm (Back Together Weekend)
Monday, 7/31 1:45-3:00 pm
Tuesday, 8/1 1:15-2:30 pm
Wednesday, 8/2 1:45-3:15 pm
Thursday, 8/3 1:15-2:45 pm
Saturday, 8/5 1:15-3:15 pm (Red & White Practice)
Monday, 8/7 1:45-3:15 pm
Tuesday, 8/8 1:15-2:45 pm
Wednesday, 8/9 1:45-3:15 pm
Practice times are subject to change. For the most up-to-date practice info, fans are encouraged to check the team’s official website www.azcardinals.com as well as @azcardinals on Twitter.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: email@example.com
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