CLEMSON — This summer, for every member on Clemson's 2018 football roster, the little details will become priority.
This is the time to perfect techniques or tone up in the weight room. This is the time to really pay attention to footwork or sit down uninterrupted with the play book. This is the time to work on all of the specific assets of the game that might fly under the radar during the hustle and bustle of the regular season.
And for Isaiah Simmons, this is the time to do all of the above. Times two.
That's because the Clemson redshirt sophomore is cross-training at two positions instead of just one as spring turns to fall and another Clemson football season opens fewer than two months from now. A safety when he first arrived at Clemson as a freshman in 2017, Simmons still will contribute to the secondary, where depth is a need — but the Tigers have found another fit for him, too.
Both Simmons and defensive coordinator Brent Venables agreed this offseason that at 6-3, 225 pounds Simmons also could be a natural fit at the nickel linebacker position, particularly now that veteran leader Dorian O'Daniel is gone.
Simmons has the build and he has the want-to to figure this new position out and make his mark in replacing O'Daniel. If he is able to successfully navigate his two starkly different positions, it would do wonders for both his own personal versatility at the next level and Clemson's flexibility this season.
"Isaiah Simmons makes some mistakes, but man, wow does he make some plays," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's a guy that has unbelievable athleticism, speed, he's got the physicality. He's a great blitzer, he can cover.
"We feel good about him back there at safety too, but he's a guy that could be one of those every-down type of guys at the nickel position."
Simmons went into the spring period emphasizing technique — well aware of how different it is between free safety and nickel linebacker — as well as coverage. Coverage was the one area Swinney wanted to see Simmons improve with in the spring and Simmons is the first to admit it has taken a little bit of time to get used to the concept of covering a general area as a linebacker. Recognizing where his help is has also been high on his priority list, but to his benefit, he spent snippets of his freshman year picking O'Daniel's brain for if this exact scenario were to arise.
He always had a gut feeling he might also belong in the linebackers unit, and that intuition was spot on. He and Venables have always been on the same page, but now it is a matter of becoming comfortable.
"I just saw how (O'Daniel) played so freely. I feel like that's the kind of player I am. I know high school and this level are completely different, but in high school, I had the ability to just play free and that was something that I really liked," Simmons said. "I would say I'm working on coach Venables' trust, but I don't have it all the way yet. When I get that, then I'll have more leeway to be more comfortable."
As self-aware as they come, what Clemson coaches will continue to love about Simmons is that mentality and how dedicated he is toward making this transition an effective one. His versatility, combined with his natural instincts, make him a key cog for the 2018 defense — one that again, is expected to be elite. Simmons would take that to the next level.
But as Venables pointed out, before Simmons can become an every-down backer, he first has to go through graduate Jalen Williams, who also has his eyes on filling O'Daniel's void.
"I would love to be better than what I am right now," Simmons said. "But you best believe I’m going to work to get there."
Clemson's Top 10 Most Important Players
10. K Greg Huegel
9. CB Trayvon Mullen
8. S/LB Isaiah Simmons
7. Coming Monday