Confidence High in Isaiah Simmons After Shaky Debut
The moment Isaiah Simmons had been dreaming about became real when he stepped onto the field for his first game day as an NFL player on Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals rookie outside linebacker lined up to start the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and after the ball was snapped, he made his first professional play.
Unfortunately, that play happened to be a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle.
Simmons did not have a dreamlike start to his career. He was later beaten badly over the middle by 49ers halfback Raheem Mostert, who took a five-yard pass 76 yards to the end zone. He also appeared to cover the wrong player leaving running back Jerick McKionnon wide open for a 5-yard touchdown reception. Pro Football Focus was not kind to the rookie, giving him a 27.1 score, worst on the team in Week 1.
Without minicamp, OTAs or a preseason, this year’s rookie class is perhaps getting thrown into the deep end significantly more so than in past years. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged there is room for growth, but he has no doubt Simmons can rise to the challenge.
"Isaiah was in his first game and it was moving pretty fast from the start," Kingsbury said Monday. "I thought he settled in as the game went on, but there are going to be some growing pains early on in the season. There was no offseason. That is never going to be easy, but as the game went on, you started to see it slow down for him a little bit. It will continue to do that. He is a tremendous talent and I expect him to get better and better as the weeks go on."
The 49ers are also a difficult challenge for linebackers. They utilize their tight ends and running backs in the passing game extensively, and that was exaggerated on Sunday with several of their top receivers injured.
Despite the early struggles, Simmons showed one of his teammates something that gave him great confidence in the youngster going forward.
"I saw resilience," safety Budda Baker said. "You have the No. 8 pick (in the first round) going against one of the best tight ends (George Kittle) in the league. He is a rookie with no preseason games and from him, I saw resilience. I didn't see him get down when he caused that penalty. He has a next-play mentality. Very positive."
Simmons was drafted to be a game-changer on the Cardinals defense.
He played both linebacker and safety in college, and could be the key to defending tight ends being big enough to battle them and quick enough to keep up. The expectations for him to be an impact rookie are still high.
If preseason is usually a foot dipped in the pool, Simmons had to dive in without a feeler. So, perhaps by Week 3 or 4 or even next Sunday, Simmons will be more acclimated to the speed of the game.
"Not having an offseason, not having preseason, and there is a lot of things that go against the guy that is learning that position, but he is very sharp," Kingsbury said. "He works really hard at it and I expect him to take some big steps over the next couple weeks."