Kyzir White already running with role as Cardinals’ defensive general
Jun 1, 2023, 1:17 PM
(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Inheriting an Arizona Cardinals team fresh off a 3-14 finish and littered with holes on both sides of the football is a huge undertaking for any coaching staff, especially one entering its first year together.
Head coach Jonathan Gannon and coordinators Nick Rallis and Drew Petzing have their work cut out for them as they try to turn around the product on the field.
At this stage, having players you can trust at the most pivotal positions is key.
And while they might be new to Arizona, Gannon and Rallis already have that built in with one member of the defense. Linebacker Kyzir White reunites with the duo after spending last season together in Philadelphia.
“It means everything,” White told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Wednesday about Gannon and Rallis bringing the linebacker aboard. “Just those guys believing in me and wanting to bring me here with them, it means everything. I ain’t going to let those guys down.
“I go even harder than I did last year. I felt like I went hard last year, but I’m in here on Saturdays, Fridays, off-days just trying to be great, trying to let them know they made the right decision in bringing me along with them.”
White isn’t just expected to contribute. He’s expected to lead as the team’s MIKE backer this season.
It’s a role he hasn’t played since 2021 — he played WILL backer for the Eagles in 2022 — but one he thrived in when he got the chance.
In his fourth and final season with the Los Angeles Chargers, White was a monster in the middle, registering 144 tackles (eighth-most in the NFL), one sack, two interceptions, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles across 17 starts.
It was far and away White’s best season as a pro.
“At MIKE, you’re the general out there,” White said. “You’re calling the defense. I feel like I’m a general, so that’s what I want to do.
“You get a mix of everything,” the LB added. “All the actions going to the MIKE, to be honest. You just got to put your hard hat on and be ready to go to work. I feel like you got to watch a lot of tape. Really be a general out there. … As a MIKE, you’re the quarterback of the defense, so you got to get everybody right.”
White’s quick ascension from free-agent addition to expected starting MIKE backer even further solidifies that linebacker Zaven Collins’ primary role is going to look a lot different.
The Cardinals for the most part looked set at MIKE backer following an impressive 100-tackle campaign by Collins in Year 2.
He appeared to have a good grasp on former DC Vance Joseph’s defense and was among the few bright spots in what was an otherwise dark year of football in the desert.
There’s no denying Collins’ athleticism and improvement on the field, but when it comes down to it, White possesses something the third-year LB doesn’t: familiarity.
That’s not to say Collins can’t be utilized elsewhere in the starting lineup.
White may have a stranglehold as the QB of the defense, but Collins has a real opportunity to impact the defense as a much-needed pass rusher.
The Cardinals are already trying Collins out on the outside, moving him over exclusively to the outside linebackers group this offseason.
That’s not to say Collins hasn’t played the position for Arizona in the past.
While he spent most of his time on the inside (785 snaps), he still managed to get some work on the outside (182).
“I’m not confined to one position right now,” Collins told Wolf & Luke last week. “Based on the importance of the defense, it’s kind of like where I’m working in right now and trying to understand the most important things of the defense.
“I love the edge, it’s a lot more free,” the LB added. “There’s not that many rules on the edge for sure. It’s kind of just grab your stuff and go. That’s the nice part about it. You don’t have to think as much.”