Joseph on Cardinals’ ILB duo of Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons: ‘It’s their time’
TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals went all-in on revamping the inside of their defense with the additions of first-round linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins in back-to-back drafts.
Expectations for both to show up and show out were high, with Collins getting an early nod as the team’s starting MIKE backer over incumbent Jordan Hicks last offseason.
The transition did not go the way Arizona envisioned, however, with Hicks fighting his way back as the team’s unquestioned quarterback of the defense. Collins was relegated to a backup role that saw more special teams work than defense.
And while Simmons recorded the third-most tackles on the team with 105, his inconsistencies were glaring.
But with Hicks now in Minnesota, the runway is clear for Collins to command the defense alongside Simmons on the inside.
The Cardinals defense depends on it.
“It’s their time. Isaiah’s going into his third year, Zaven’s going into his second year, they’re first-round picks,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Wednesday. “They have to help us and it’s heading that way. I’ve been proud of Zaven and how much time he’s put in, Isaiah’s always been a good worker. It’s the next step for him.
“Obviously watching him last year, he made plays but now he has to make consistent plays and not give up plays. That’s his next challenge. And for Zaven it’s staying healthy and keep learning. Both guys are physically gifted so we have to get those guys ready to play because we need them.”
Collins’ duties go far beyond just making plays as the starting MIKE backer. Joseph doesn’t doubt his abilities there. It’s the mental aspect of calling the defense, making checks and getting the defense lined up properly at a quick pace.
Joseph is seeing the growth in that department, especially when it comes to Collins’ increased comfortability in making the calls.
Collins’ improvement hasn’t been lost on his teammates, either, with outside linebacker Devon Kennard coming away impressed with the young ILB’s work acumen and drive to get better.
“He takes the game very serious and is a very smart kid, so I’m excited to see what he can do,” Kennard said Thursday on the Big Red Rage. “He played a limited role last year but I feel like it’s going to be a much increased role this season and it seems like he’s ready to step up to the plate and take ownership of that.
“You like to see your inside backers that can demand the huddle and demand the room and really understand what everyone’s doing because you’re kind of orchestrating — you’re the quarterback of the defense. And I think he’s showing all of us that he has that in him and that’s really encouraging so I’m excited for him.”