No matter how well you’re coached, no one can teach experience.
You can’t swim in the deep end without getting your feet wet.
For Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Sunday provided his first real taste of the NFL.
With an abbreviated offseason that featured zero preseason games, the rookie was flung into the fire during the Cardinals’ season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
But while the tape showed a rough day, head coach Kliff Kingsbury believes Simmons will come out on the other end a much better player for it.
“That’s kinda what we expected with that game moving really fast for a guy who didn’t have an offseason,” Kingsbury told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Monday. “Didn’t have one preseason snap and then he steps in vs. the NFC champs and it showed up. He’ll be better for it. … It’s a learning lesson that when you step on that field you better be locked in and ready to go from the first snap on and he’ll be better moving forward.”
His inexperience on an NFL football field was quickly realized by those watching at home Sunday afternoon. Picking up 49ers running back Raheem Mostert out of the backfield, Simmons was burned by the RB as he crossed the middle of the field. Mostert proceeded to outrun two others for the 76-yard touchdown. It was the longest play of the day by either sides.
Outside of the touchdown pass, Simmons was on the field for 17 other snaps and lined up in the box, slot, along the line and outside, per Pro Football Focus. Of the eight snaps where he was in coverage, Simmons was targeted three times, resulting in three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
Simmons recorded three tackles. One of those tackles came against 49ers tight end George Kittle on the first offensive play of the game. Simmons got the tight end down for minimal yardage but was dinged with a horse collar penalty.
There’s obvious room for improvement, but that’s the case with every rookie after their first real NFL game. Especially in 2020, when the NFL season has been anything but normal.
“It was his first game obviously and it was moving pretty fast for him to start, but I thought he settled in as the game went on,” Kingsbury told reporters Monday. “That’s going to be some growing pains early on in the season.
“There was no offseason … That’s never going to be easy but as the game went on you started to see it slow down for him a little bit. It’ll continue to do that. He’s a tremendous talent and I expect him to get better and better as the weeks go on.”
As a member of the Clemson Tigers, Simmons proved to be a versatile defender that could do just about anything asked of him. His teammates know the ability and mindset is there to get the job done. It’s just a matter of time before the rookie finds his rhythm among the NFL’s speed.
“I saw resilience,” safety Budda Baker said of Simmons after the game. “You got the No. 8 pick going against one of the best tight ends in the league — and he’s a rookie with no preseason games. I didn’t see him get down when he caused that penalty. Next-play mentality. Very positive. I was very, very happy for him and happy we got the W.”