Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks a ‘cheat code’ for teammates
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is enough talent to argue that just two significant offseason moves by Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim will shift the team’s defense into elite territory for 2019.
First is new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph swapping out the 4-3 for the 3-4. But second is the signing of former Philadelphia Eagle Jordan Hicks, Joseph’s quarterback at the MIKE linebacker slot.
If and — hopefully for the Cardinals’ sake — when anyone reaches the conclusion that Arizona’s defense is pretty good and Hicks is a reason why, it’ll be nice to remember the comment that fellow inside linebacker Dennis Gardeck made Saturday.
“I feel like it’s having a cheat code out on the field,” he said of Hicks. “He’s so smart, so as a young ‘backer, I definitely need to improve my football IQ, and I’ve been working at it. But he’s leagues ahead of me as far as mental experience, all that.
“So just having him, it kind of calms you down. When you know what’s coming or what to expect, the game slows down so much more.”
Having a second-year pro give such complimentary interviews about him is “high praise,” Hicks told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Tuesday.
“It’s taken a lot of time to get to this point, a lot of preparation. I’m not done,” Hicks said of is on-field growth. “I got a long way to go. I’m still learning, I’m still figuring it out.”
He isn’t so old himself, but Hicks’ on- and off-field lives are maturing at the same time. Hicks just turned 27 and this offseason spent a vacation in Hawaii — not on the beach, but for the first time at a kiddy pool with his 10-month old son.
Gardeck hasn’t been the only teammate to lay down some kind words about Hicks without playing a preseason snap beside him.
In May, just weeks into working together, Haason Reddick said it felt like he’d been playing with Hicks for two to three years already.
“Really cool dude, willing to help. We can feed off each other. Our communication right now, it’s crazy,” said Reddick, who in training camp has been replaced by Gardeck while recovering from a knee procedure.
Joseph’s free agency pitch to Hicks played a big part in the linebacker leaving Philadelphia for the desert. It helped Hicks has family in Arizona and the Cardinals have a lot to sell with Kliff Kingsbury taking over.
But Joseph doesn’t think Hicks’ abilities stop at the MIKE spot. He believes in the youthful depth at inside linebacker, where Reddick and Gardeck have a lot to prove. That confidence probably isn’t hurt by Hicks knowing the playbook so well and calling teammates out if they aren’t in the right position.
If he isn’t yelling at them, they know they’re in the right spot. They can just play.
Hicks does the football thing well, too. He posted 91 tackles in 12 games last season, adding three sacks and five passes defensed.
Much like the Kingsbury-Kyler Murray partnership that will drive the offense, the Joseph-Hicks link on defense goes much deeper than their headset-to-helmet communications. They, too, are already bonding.
“He’s very bright, first of all. He’s an experienced MIKE backer,” Joseph said. “He’s still young but he brings a high, high football IQ to our defense. I am talking directly to him with adjustments and certain keys we have to go through for certain plays.
“He can play first, second, third down as a MIKE backer, and that’s important when playing these offenses now in the NFL.”
The Cardinals hope that his presence indeed works like cheat code.