Tulsa coach: Zaven Collins hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, ready to play

Apr 30, 2021, 11:09 AM
(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)...
(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Even though Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins was rated as one of the top defensive players in the 2021 NFL Draft, he’s still relatively new to his position.

The Cardinals selected Collins with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday night and Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery thinks Collins still has room to grow.

“He’s always looking to improve,” Montgomery told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “He’s still young at that position. Coming out of high school he was a quarterback and free safety.

“So he’s only been playing linebacker for a couple of years now and he knows he’s still growing. He hasn’t hit a ceiling yet, and he’s still got a long way from it, but he’s playing pretty well right now I can tell you that.”

Montgomery didn’t shy away from praising the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Award winner, saying Collins had a commanding presence within the Golden Hurricane’s program.

“He’s just got a presence about him,” Montgomery said. “As you get to know him, he’s got a little aura about him. … When he talks, people listen. He backs it up with what he does on and off the field.

“He’s one of the hardest workers we have in our program,” Montgomery said. “Whether you’re talking about in the weight room, whether you’re talking about a guy that’s going to be in the film room, he’s going to get his work done and then take it onto the field.”

That work in the weight and film room translated in 2020. In eight games, Collins racked up 54 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions. Collins also had a knack for finding the end zone, returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns. After his stellar season, Collins was named an All-American and the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Despite the Cardinals having Jordan Hicks, Collins comes to the Valley with the belief he could become the starting middle linebacker right away but knows he needs to earn the job, according to Montgomery.

“He’s planning on coming in there and starting game one,” Montgomery said. “Now he knows he’s got work to do. He knows he’s got to go win the job, yet his mindset is going to be I want to be that guy I’m gonna do everything I can to be that guy.”

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) celebrates during the second half of an NFL f...
Tom Kuebel

Jordan Hicks proud to persevere and remain integral to Cardinals defense

Despite the difficulties, Jordan Hicks has persevered and played an integral role in the Cardinals defense over the first two games.
9 hours ago
Maxx Williams #87 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball after a reception against the Minneso...
Tyler Drake

Maxx Williams, 2nd half defense flip switch for Cardinals vs. Vikings

A double deflection turned reception and a stout defensive showing in the second half proved to be just what the Cardinals needed Sunday.
9 hours ago
Rondale Moore #4 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the after the catch for a touchdown against the...
Kellan Olson

Rondale Moore providing instant impact in rookie year for Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals look like they've got a keeper in rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore, who had over 100 yards against the Vikings.
1 day ago
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the seco...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals catch a break, protect home turf behind Kyler Murray

In the NFL, there is a fine line between victory and vilification. The Cardinals ended up on the right side of the ledger on Sunday.
9 hours ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) defends against the Minnesota Vikings during the sec...
Arizona Sports

Rapid reactions: Cardinals survive last-minute FG attempt to beat Vikings

The Cardinals hung on for a narrow win over the Vikings to move to 2-0 on the season, thanks to missed field goal in the final minute.
1 day ago
Jonathan Ward #29 of the Arizona Cardinals does a back flip as teammates celebrate on the field aft...
Arizona Sports

Cardinals hold on after missed FG as time expires to beat Vikings

In a game full of ups and downs between the Cardinals and Vikings, the player that would decide its outcome was on his own roller coaster.
1 day ago
Tulsa coach: Zaven Collins hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, ready to play