Kliff Kingsbury expects Cardinals LB Zaven Collins to be starting in Week 1

May 14, 2021, 12:54 PM | Updated: 3:47 pm

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Tempe, A...

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

The Arizona Cardinals are only a day into rookie minicamp and the stakes are already high for rookie linebacker Zaven Collins.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury not only expects the first-round linebacker to grasp the defense, he expects him to lead it alongside Isaiah Simmons when the Cardinals take on running back Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.

“When they line up they’ll win the prettiest linebacker duo award when they line up side by side,” the head coach said Friday. “Those are two big, long, athletic cats. We know there’s going to be growing pains, obviously, two guys that are getting indoctrinated into the league.

“Isaiah played some last year, but as far as a full-time starter goes this will be his first run at it. But they’re athletic enough to make up for some of the experience they don’t have. We’re excited to grow with them and see what they can become together.”

Kingsbury’s expectation was further confirmation of the potential departure of Jordan Hicks, who has started at MIKE linebacker the past two seasons.

On Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Cardinals had allowed Hicks permission to look for a new home through a trade.

While Kingsbury didn’t get divulge what has been said between he and Hicks, the head coach did open up about the linebacker, calling him a great leader and “one of the most respected players on our team.”

The Cardinals may be ready to turn the page on Hicks manning the MIKE, but filling his shoes won’t be an easy task.

Outside of what he brings as a leader and veteran voice, Hicks finished last season tied with safety Budda Baker for the most tackles on the team (118). The linebacker had 11.5 tackles for loss, second on the team behind only linebacker Haason Reddick, who is now in Carolina. And while his speed and ability to cover pass catchers has been put into question, he still managed four pass deflections and an interception.

General manager Steve Keim considers Collins an alpha, meaning he possesses the leadership qualities the Cardinals are looking for to run a defense. And after leading Tulsa’s defense with four sacks and four interceptions in 2020 (eight games), Arizona believes his playmaking abilities can elevate its linebackers room.

For Collins, who was unaware of Kingsbury’s remarks when he spoke with the media, it starts with keeping his head down and attacking this offseason with everything he’s got.

“I’m just going out every day and just working, trying to make that role, trying to earn it,” Collins said. “Nothing’s given, you just got to earn everything, so that’s just what I’m trying to do every snap, every day, every install that we have still trying to learn and be great.

“Whether you’re a starter or not, you gotta come into this league and you gotta come into this program working your tail off, whether you’re a starter or at the bottom it doesn’t matter,” Collins added. “You gotta go in there every day like you’re trying to earn your spot, and for me, I don’t know where my spot is right now, so I gotta earn it.”

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