Isaiah Simmons' Patience Finally Paying Off

Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons is finally getting the playing time he wanted all along.
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Patience was not a new lesson for Cardinals rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons. 

After playing over 50 percent of Arizona's defensive snaps in a game for the first time all season, he pointed out on Tuesday that he also didn't play right away at Clemson. He redshirted his first year, then played just 18.4 snaps per game in his redshirt freshman season. 

But, after working to become a starter, and then one of college football's most prolific defenders, Simmons was taken eighth overall by Arizona. There, his patience has been put to the test once again. 

"There's definitely frustration just from going from playing every single snap to not really getting many snaps week by week," Simmons said. "Patience is always a hard thing. But, most of time, it ends up helping in your favor."

He played an average of 13.3 defensive snaps per game over the first seven games of the season. His role has steadily increased over the last three games, and his play has improved. Last week, he played a career-high 68 percent of the defensive snaps and led the team with 10 tackles along with a sack. 

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Simmons came in wanting to be the starter from Day 1. But, he has pointed out multiple times that the team wanted to bring him along slowly. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury praised his staff for that strategy. 

Joseph gave various reasons for it on Tuesday. 

"He missed the entire offseason," Joseph said. "In the offseason, those guys get probably 1200 snaps. He missed that time. So, he was behind the eight ball as far as playing NFL football and playing in this package. Isaiah was so different because he was asked to play safety and a little bit outside 'backer, inside 'backer also. He was drafted to be a Swiss Army knife for us; now he's becoming that. So it took a little longer for him to play all four positions that he's played in the last last month. But he was patient, our staff was patient and kept pushing him and working with him. Now you see why (general manager) Steve (Keim) took Isaiah in the top 10. He's going to be a special player. He's still learning; he's not there yet."

Simmons admitted there is a learning curve he is working through. He compared the first four games of the season to a preseason in which he was adjusting to the speed of the game. 

But he has also felt that the more consistently he played, the better he would be. 

"I've just kind of been thinking, pretty much the whole year, all I need is consecutive snaps so I can get comfortable and feel the flow of the game," Simmons said. "I feel like ever since I've got consecutive snaps, I've been able to find a comfort level within the game and and feel the flow of it and be able to be myself and just play."

When he did play more, he looked like a physical force. Kingsbury said Simmons looked "outstanding" against Seattle.

Joseph commented that the rookie wasn't helping the team win early on, which was hard on the top pick. But, Simmons didn't get very many chances to. 

That changed in Week 7. 

His interception in overtime against Seattle directly led to the game-winning field goal, a play that Simmons said was important to him gaining more playing time. Joseph thought it was more than that. 

"From that moment on, it definitely changed for Isaiah as far as his body language, his confidence in playing NFL football," Joseph said. "It was definitely a huge moment for our team and huge for Isaiah."

After there an apparent difference of opinion between Simmons and his coaches, his playing time is starting to increase. Joseph followed that up by saying that Simmons is now helping the Cardinals win. 

"He's done a tremendous job of of building each week," Kingsbury added. 

And now that upward path should continue with more snaps and more big plays.