Simmons: ‘Sky’s the limit’ alongside ILB Zaven Collins in Cardinals defense

Jun 9, 2021, 3:22 PM
Linebacker Zaven Collins #25 of the Arizona Cardinals participates in an off-season workout at Dign...
Linebacker Zaven Collins #25 of the Arizona Cardinals participates in an off-season workout at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on June 09, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals defense underwent quite the facelift this offseason.

Mainstays including cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Haason Reddick are off to new homes, as are fellow 2020 starters like linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and tight end Dan Arnold. Defensive tackle Corey Peters’ future is still up in the air as he remains a free agent coming off a season-ending injury.

Then there’s linebacker Jordan Hicks, who remains on the team, but is reportedly looking for a new place to hang his helmet after starting all 32 games the past two seasons in the desert.

While the Cardinals’ future plans might not involve Hicks, he was still a big part of the defense, forcing rookie linebacker Zaven Collins to show just what his first-round price tag was worth early on in his NFL career.

And from the sounds of it, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is seeing the team’s next quarterback of the defense take form.

“He is such a humble guy and hardworking guy, he’s going to get it done,” Joseph said Wednesday after Day 2 of minicamp. “It won’t be perfect every day, but I told [linebackers coach] Billy Davis five minutes ago, ‘He’s going to make more plays than he makes mistakes.’

“So far, He’s putting the work in to gain the trust of his teammates and his coaches. It is what it is. He’s the MIKE backer, he’s going to play and he’s ready for it.”

Collins’ honesty is already on display, Joseph added, with veterans seeing firsthand his accountability and the time he is dedicating to fine-tuning his craft.

But it’s not all on the Collins, who has the benefit of veteran leaders like Budda Baker and J.J. Watt on the field with him.

He’s also joined on the inside by second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who’s looking to minimize mistakes and has improved his comfort level with the defense as a whole ahead of 2021.

After a slow start to last season (three starts), Simmons strung together a nice second half of the year. In the final 10 games, Simmons recorded 43 tackles, 2.0 sacks, an interception, one pass deflection and a forced fumble.

“Personally with me and Zaven together I feel like sky’s the limit,” Simmons said Wednesday. “He’s really smart, big, athletic guy that can move very well. And I really mean smart. I just found out he’s pre-med, so in my eyes, he’s a genius. … I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun for both us just learning as we go along.

“We have such a veteran group around us. It’s crazy just having the opportunity for both of us to learn from guys like Budda and J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler, Chandler and the list goes on. There’s so many people that are surrounding us that’s going to make this year so fun. Zaven, he’s learning very, very fast and he’s look very, very good, so I’m really excited for this year.”

The pairing is undoubtedly raw. Time and experience together will help resolve that, but the two show promise.

In the right situation, they can flourish. Joseph can already see that. Now it’s up to him to get them there.

Luckily for the coordinator, this isn’t the first time dealing with a pair of young linebackers in the NFC West.

“As a coach I think you have to understand there’s gonna be some bad downs. But also on the flip side, there’s gonna be plays where those two guys can make that other guys can’t make,” Joseph said. It’s our job as a staff, mine especially, to put players first and scheme second and let those guys unlock those bodies and just play.

I did it in [San Francisco]. We had Pat Willis and Navarro Bowman when they were young guys and we kinda simplified those things and allowed those guys to run and hit. It’s a players league, so it’s my job to simplify things so those guys can play fast, make the least mistakes they can make and also make plays, but have enough scheme where we can defend ourselves but allow those guys to run and hit and to play free. That’s my job as a coordinator.”


– Simmons on his number change:

“I might feel just a little faster with the single digit. I know everybody wanted to see me in No. 11, but respect to Larry [Fitzgerald]. He did great things in this community as well as this team. He’s a legend here, so I wouldn’t even want to wear No. 11 here. But the No. 9, I wouldn’t say there’s really a huge significance to it but I’m feeling good in it.”

Life Changer Loans

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins looks on during training camp on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Gle...
Tyler Drake

Back in black: Cardinals get 1st glimpse of 4-receiver arsenal, new helmet

After an offseason of waiting, head coach Kliff Kingsbury got to see what he'll be working with offensively starting in Week 7.
15 hours ago
Budda Baker #3 and Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals walk off the field following the NFL ga...
Arizona Sports

NFL Top 100: Kyler Murray gets comped, Rams have Budda Baker rule

Cardinals Kyler Murray and Budda Baker joined teammate James Conner in the NFL Network's Top 100 list of players, as ranked by their peers.
15 hours ago
Running back James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football against Leonard Floyd #54...
Sam Graveline

Cardinals RB James Conner comes in at No. 80 in NFL Top 100

After scoring 18 touchdowns in his first season with the Cardinals, running back James Conner got some recognition from his peers in the NFL.
2 days ago
Kendric Pryor #19 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes a catch past Breon Borders #21 of the Arizona Car...
Arizona Sports

Arizona Cardinals release DL Kingsley Keke, CB Breon Borders among 5 cuts

The Cardinals cut DL Kingsley Keke, OL Haggai Ndubuisi, OL Greg Long, RB Ronnie Rivers and CB Breon Borders, the team announced. 
2 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt walks the sideline during the team's NFL football preseas...
Haboob Blog

Cardinals’ J.J. Watt encounters ‘baby rattlesnake’ in bathroom

Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt found himself in a situation many who call Arizona home never wish to be in. Or at least he thought so.
3 days ago
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) greets San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Sha...
Tom Kuebel

Kliff Kingsbury lends support for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan in hat ‘beef’

Kliff Kingsbury tendered support for San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in his ongoing hat drama with the NFL.
3 days ago
Simmons: ‘Sky’s the limit’ alongside ILB Zaven Collins in Cardinals defense