Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons ‘Not Playing Scared’ Against Powerful Titans RB

Isaiah Simmons - Cardinals

Getty Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons takes the field against the Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium on November 15, 2020, in Glendale, Arizona.

Isaiah Simmons has seen the highlights: Defenders appear to be in good position to make a tackle but quickly find themselves on the wrong end of a stiff arm from Titans running back Derrick Henry.

It’s a situation the Cardinals’ second-year linebacker knows he’ll likely face Sunday, September 12, when Arizona opens the season at Tennessee. And Simmons isn’t backing away from the challenge.

“I’m not playing scared or anything,” Simmons told reporters Monday, September 6. “At the end of the day, he puts his cleats on just like me.”

While Simmons expects to show no fear against the Titans’ powerful 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back, he has plenty of respect for the NFL’s leading rusher the past two seasons.

“We’ve seen the monstrous stiff arm he has,” Simmons said, “so (we’ll be) trying to keep him off of our smaller guys as much as we possibly can.”

Henry set a Titans franchise record last season with 2,027 rushing yards, the fifth-best single-season rushing total in NFL history. Henry also became just the eighth player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.

Former Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he believes Henry is poised to break Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set back in 1984, in part because teams will play 17 regular-season games for the first time.

“It’s very likely he could do it,” Fitzgerald said Monday, September 6, on the “Let’s Go” radio show and podcast. “I think everything is set up for him to be a 2,000-plus yard rusher.”

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said slowing down Henry and the Titans’ running game will be a huge challenge for his defense.

“We know he’s a tremendous back. He’s done it against every team in the league,” Kingsbury told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Tuesday, September 7.

“The thing that impresses me the most … for a guy that massive (is) his breakaway speed, his balance and his consistency,” the Cardinals coach said. “Week in and week out, no matter how many carries he gets, how many hits he takes, he comes back the next week and seems to be stronger. He’s a freak athlete and player, and we’re going to have our hands full.”

Jones Wins Starting RG Job

There were a few surprises when the Cardinals released their Week 1 depth chart Tuesday, September 7.

Josh Jones, the Cardinals’ third-round pick (No. 72 overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft, will start at right guard against the Titans. Jones, at 6-foot-5 and 319 pounds, played in 13 games for Arizona during his rookie season, mainly at tackle.

“Josh has come a long way in a short time,” Kingsbury said. “(He) didn’t get a lot of action last year. … This year, (he) has transitioned to that guard position and really handled himself well. He’ll continue to have his ups and downs as young players do, but we like what we’ve seen so far.”

Jones, 24, had been battling Brian Winters and Justin Murray for the starting spot throughout training camp. Winters, who signed a free-agent deal with the Cardinals after spending last season with the Buffalo Bills, is listed as Jones’ backup at right guard and also is expected to see action behind starter Justin Pugh at left guard. Murray will serve as the Cardinals’ backup right tackle behind starter Kelvin Beachum.

Chase Edmonds is listed No. 1 on the depth chart at running back, but James Conner also is expected to get his share of carries, particularly in short-yardage and goal-line situations. In the battle for the No. 3 running back spot, Jonathan Ward edged out hometown favorite Eno Benjamin, the former Arizona State star.

“We’ll ride the hot hand,” Kingsbury said of his running backs. “We have three or four guys that we feel can all get the job done, and that’s exciting for a play-caller.”

Benjamin and rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore will handle kickoff returns, with fourth-year receiver Christian Kirk fielding punts. Moore also could see action as a punt returner.

Seventh-Round Pick Released

The Cardinals made one roster move Tuesday, September 7, releasing offensive lineman Michal Menet from the practice squad to make room for offensive tackle Eric Smith.

The Cardinals selected Menet in the seventh round (No. 247 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft. The center from Penn State becomes the only player drafted by the Cardinals in 2021 who’s no longer on the active roster or the practice squad.

Smith, 26, is a third-year pro from Virginia who saw action in one game last season for the Dallas Cowboys and two games with the New York Giants in 2019.

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