Throughout the 2020 season, there’s been almost a weekly update on the progress of rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph remains confident in the belief that as Simmons learns, his snaps will increase and big plays will be the result.
Simmons only played 16 snaps in last Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots, which said Joseph has to consistently be more. But one of those snaps Sunday resulted in a disastrous unnecessary roughness penalty that helped the Patriots move into position for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Thursday, Joseph discussed the difficulty for a player as big and physical as Simmons, who hits the quarterback, in this case Cam Newton, hard at the sideline.
“That's a tough play,” Joseph said. “Obviously, it was a big play in the football game. It was a big third down and Cam was going to make the first down and Isaiah thought he was in the green grass. So, I will coach the point to Isaiah is don't stop being aggressive, but lower your target and wrap on your tackles. That's our job, to coach Isaiah and to get clarity from the official on what he actually called. Once we got that clarity, we can obviously help Isaiah get better.”
Joseph also noted that the way Simmons made the hit caused it to look worse than it was.
Joseph said, “Isaiah is so big and he's so fast with that much space in between him and that quarterback, it was going to be a big collision. And with his speed and size; he has hit people hard, so we have to teach him how to lower his target and to wrap and squeeze the tackle because when he's not wrapping, it looks more violent than it should look. It's legal, but it looks really violent. And in this league, if it looks violent, and it looks over-aggressive, they're going to call it. So that's what we're dealing with playing defense in this league. I thought Isaiah played aggressive and he has to continue to play aggressive, but we can coach him on how to lower his target and to wrap on his tackles.”
That prompted a question that wondered if Joseph ever thought “in this day and age that you would have to tell a guy in the NFL, ‘Hey, man, don't hit him too hard?’”
Joseph reiterated his point and also mentioned a crucial penalty called on safety Budda Baker in the loss to Miami that led to a touchdown.
Joseph said of Simmons, “We want him to be tough and violent, but also stay within the rules. That's lowering your pads, that's wrapping and keeping your head out of it. It’s a way to play tough and play physical without breaking the rules.”
As for the Baker play against the Dolphins, Joseph concluded, “We want physical, but we have to stay inside of the rules. Because if not, it's a 15-yard penalty. That’s hurt us at the end of games, even with Budda’s hit against Miami. That's a big penalty on a sideline tackle there that we thought was a normal hit. But obviously it wasn't. So those 15-yard penalties add up for us, especially in those game-changing moments of games.”