Cardinals LB coach Bill Davis on motivated Jordan Hicks: ‘I overplayed him’
Jordan Hicks played all 1,133 of the available defensive snaps in 2019 to prove that the Arizona Cardinals made a sound investment, that his reputation for being often injured prior to joining them was about bad luck more than anything.
Hicks played 1,024 more snaps as a starting linebacker last year, though he scaled back his special teams duties.
As the 29-year-old’s production waned in 2020, Cardinals linebackers coach Bill Davis came to the realization that he’d done his trusted defensive signal-caller no favors.
“I personally think I overplayed him,” Davis told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Tuesday. “That is a lot of snaps. I didn’t give him any relief in there. It’s because we have so much trust with him calling and getting everyone else lined up, he’s very calm at it. Everybody trusts him — if he says it then they play it. It takes awhile for that trust to grow.
“So I believe it’s just too many snaps on him. It showed a little toward the end (of 2020). But the Jordan you see running around now, he’s taking less reps, he’s fresh, he’s smart, he’s very clear-minded and it shows.”
Just how much Hicks plays in 2021 remains a question mark. Arizona selected middle linebacker Zaven Collins 16th overall in this year’s NFL Draft, and Hicks left that outcome with an understanding that the rookie will be his replacement as the starter at the MIKE spot.
Arizona general manager Steve Keim called Hicks two days after the draft to make that clear, the linebacker said.
“I think I’ve proven that I’m a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field,” Hicks told reporters two weeks ago. “Whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, given the opportunity to compete, I think I can have a starting job.”
Hicks was plenty productive despite looking a step slower in 2020.
He posted 118 tackles — down from 149 the year prior — with an interception and 11 stuffs. The analytical snapshot, however, painted a player in decline.
Quantifying off-ball LBs can be tough, partially because they play a role in coverage, run stop and pass rush.
Here's a plot getting at all 3. Run Stop Win Rate (x) by EPA per coverage snap allowed (y), with color indicating Pass Rush Win Rate. Up/Right/Red = good.
Some notes: pic.twitter.com/KAFhiSRFC0
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) August 9, 2021
Davis, who was defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles when Hicks was drafted by them in 2015, has remained a strong advocate for the linebacker in Arizona the past few seasons — and since Keim’s phone call this offseason.
The linebackers coach said the team is still sorting out which personnel combinations will be ones of strength.
It’s not out of the question they can create three-backer packages for Hicks alongside Collins and second-year pro Isaiah Simmons, who last year was used from deep safety to on-the-line pass-rusher.
With that, Davis believes Hicks will be able to contribute if he remains with the Cardinals, despite the linebacker’s displeasure at losing the starting job.
“Jordan is a pro’s pro, a class act, he handles everything with integrity, intelligence — he’s not an emotional-based reactor,” Davis told Doug & Wolf. “We had a lot of good heart-to-heart, long talks, talked it all through.
“Right now, he’s in camp competing. He’s having the best camp I’ve seen him have, and Jordan Hicks is going to help us win football games this year. He knows that and he’s willing to do it and he’s selfless and I’m excited he’s still with us.”