As a redshirt freshman Isaiah Simmons impacted the secondary, recording 49 tackles, a sack, five pass breakups and causing a fumble while averaging a tackle every 6.1 snaps to lead the team.
Simmons appeared in relief as a safety in 13-of-14 games but did not start a single game in Tiger uniform. This season the Kansas native entered camp with a new resolve and focus to not only play more snaps but move into a starting role.
“Coming into this season I just wanted to play more so I put a lot to the side and focused a lot more on football to get the job done,” Simmons said.
Following the first team scrimmage in Clemson Memorial Stadium on Aug. 11, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables named Simmons as a starter at the strong-side linebacker/nickel back spot.
For Simmons the transition has not been particularly difficult but there are a few areas where he had to work a little harder to get up to speed. The transition was not as taxing for the redshirt sophomore physically as it was mentally.
“I just had to focus a lot on the techniques for the nickel and knowing where my help is at here as opposed to at safety,” Simmons said. “It is definitely a harder mental transition because at nickel there is just more you have to think about.”
However, the move was eased by the defensive knowledge Simmons had already acquired after learning both safety positions and dabbling a little at nickel in practice.
“My freshman year I learned a little bit of it but now that I am fully transitioned into it, knowing both safety spots as well made it easier,” said Simmons.
Last season, the SAM/nickel position was occupied by All-American Dorian O’Daniel, who, after an outstanding senior season, was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Since moving on the former Tiger has been communicating with Simmons and giving him advice.
“We’ve talked, and Dorian has helped me a lot on giving me some tips and pointers on how I can better myself with technique,” Simmons said.
Moving closer to the line of scrimmage forced Simmons to make some adjustments mentally, especially knowing where his help is as opposed to being the last line of defense at safety.
Despite the differences, Venables believes Simmons is ready for the challenge when second-ranked Clemson hosts Furman at Death Valley on Sept. 1.