While many of his fellow rookies have shined this season, first-round linebacker Isaiah Simmons has mostly watched from the sidelines this season.
The No. 8 overall pick has been a bit-player through nine games, playing just 140 total defensive snaps. That could change in Thursday night’s showdown against division rival Seattle.
“To his credit, he’s been patient,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, via the team’s official website. “He’s been frustrated, but he’s been patient and waiting his turn, learning and working in practice. It’s showing in the games. We’ve got to play him more, because he can help us win, and that’s what we want from Isaiah.
“He’s been patient enough to wait his turn, but it’s time.”
Joseph and coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t want to heap too much on the rookie’s plate too soon with the offseason program sideswiped by COVID-19. Through the first seven weeks of the season, Simmons never played more than 20 snaps in a game and averaged just 11.4 defensive plays per game over that stretch.
In the Week 7 overtime win over Seattle, Simmons played just five defensive snaps. One of those happened to be the game-changing interception of Russell Wilson in overtime.
Since the Cards’ Week 8 bye, the Clemson product has been a different player.
“The confidence has come out,” Joseph said. “You watch him play now and he knows what to do. He’s sure. Now you see the speed, the length. You see why Steve Keim drafted this guy in the top-10. Before that, you saw a guy who was uncertain and wasn’t sure that he knew what to do, so he couldn’t play fast.”
Simmons played more in Sunday’s dramatic win over Buffalo after veteran inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell suffered a calf injury. The rookie played well on the inside, earning four tackles, a tackle for loss and a QB hit, and held up well in coverage.
With Campbell questionable to play Thursday night, Simmons could play the biggest role of his young career in the biggest game to date.
Thursday’s marquee NFC West showdown between the Cardinals and Seahawks kicks off in Seattle at 8:20 p.m. ET and airs on NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime Video.