TEMPE — After showing off his raw abilities in Year 1, Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons turned in a much-improved sophomore season.
Starting every game in 2021, Simmons was third on the team in tackles (105) and tied for second in passes defensed (seven) and forced fumbles (four).
His name was more times than not all over the stat sheet.
And while there are still some inconsistencies to iron out as he enters his third season, Simmons is also striving to evolve his NFL game in another facet.
Simmons’ career expectation for himself is to be the best player to grace the league. Adding a leadership role to the NFL resume never hurts.
“I definitely want to exert myself more as a leader because that’s just who I’ve been,” Simmons said Tuesday. “I don’t really have a problem with saying something to anyone because at the end of the day, I’m not really here to be anybody’s friend. We’re all trying to get to the Lombardi Trophy.
“If you don’t like what I’m saying, then you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons, because I’m not saying anything to hurt anyone’s, or to call anyone out, it’s just all for the better of us. And the thing is when I’m saying this, I want people to say the same things back to me or else … we’re not in it for the right reasons.”
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has seen Simmons’ comfortability in the defense improve as he fine-tunes his craft this offseason. The linebacker will be the first to tell you everything’s slowed down for him.
But it’s not just about the Simmons’ improvement this offseason, it’s about the team as a whole in his eyes, a common leadership trait.
It’s nature for Simmons, who was a leader on defense during his college days at Clemson.
He doesn’t see why he can’t be in Arizona.
And coming with that territory is not being afraid to speak up to young players like second-year pro Zaven Collins or veterans like J.J. Watt — someone Kingsbury still doesn’t say anything to — when it asks for it.
“We butt heads a little but it’s because I want J.J. to be better than he’s ever been, which that’s a lot to say. Especially to a Defensive Player of the Year, that’s a lot to say,” Simmons said. “J.J., he’s my biggest critic, but he wants me to be the absolute best I can. If it’s J.J. telling me something that I don’t want to hear, which he knows I don’t want to hear, he’s going to have no issues and he’s going to tell me.
“Also, I feel like he would want me to do it vice versa. Being able to get after him, knowing we can get after each other, all with the same end goal. That’s the type of guys you want to have on your team and not guys that just let things slide by.”