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New Friends Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins Look To Make Mark As Linebacker Duo

Cardinals' last two first-round picks have confidence in early responsibility

The Cardinals have spent their last two first-round picks on inside linebackers Isaiah Simmons (9) and Zaven Collins (25).
The Cardinals have spent their last two first-round picks on inside linebackers Isaiah Simmons (9) and Zaven Collins (25).

Isaiah Simmons knew he was going to have to play with Zaven Collins, but he wasn't sure if he was going to be friends with him.

"I thought he was going to be a weirdo," Simmons said. "But it turned out he and I are really good friends. We spend a lot of time together, do dinner and stuff. Just to get a camaraderie going on."

Simmons, the Cardinals' 2020 first-round pick, said it was just a reaction to the draft interviews of 2021 first-round pick Collins – "That wasn't a proud moment," Collins admitted – but they've gotten past it.

"He first described it to me as (me) being a square, whatever that means," Collins said with a smile. "Me and Zay are good friends."

The two finding chemistry off the field can only hope the pairing on the field, as the Cardinals try to rebuild the center of their defense with the two giant, athletic, speedy "trees" from the first round.

After a year in which Simmons didn't get a chance to have on offseason or preseason games, the second-year player has already looked much improved. Collins, installed as the starter from the time he arrived, will play the Mike linebacker and is slated to call the plays for the defense.

(Last year's starting Mike, Jordan Hicks, has already logged a lot of practice time in a package with both other young linebackers on the field.)

"I felt like we clicked very early," Simmons said. "As a player you know players you are compatible with on the field. He and I are definitely compatible. Everything has been smooth sailing so far. (But) we're both still learning, figuring out how we are going run the defense."

Multiple times, whether it has been GM Steve Keim, coach Kliff Kingsbury or defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the warnings have been sounded – there are going to be errors from these young players, but it doesn't change the plan to play through that.

Both will get to play in their first preseason game ever on Friday against the Cowboys – Simmons of course lost his chance as a rookie because Covid wiped out preseason games – and for the first time, we will see how the two work against another team.

"It definitely a challenge sometimes to get those young bucks to listen, because they want to be so right all the time and don't want to make mistakes," All-Pro safety Budda Baker said. "It's OK to make mistakes right now, you're learning. Just make sure you don't make the same mistake twice."

If there is pressure on the two, they don't show it. Simmons always figured he would be in a leadership spot on defense – "From the day I was drafted, they told me that, he said – while Collins believes calling plays in the NFL is like a chess match and he has embraced the expectations that goes with it.

"I love having that weight on my shoulders," Collins said.

On Collins' first day, Simmons – knowing the expectations now on the duo from the organization – brought up as a goal to emulate the Super Bowl-winning inside linebacker tandem of Devin White and Lavonte David.

"I told him, we can be all that and more if we want to," Simmons said. "It depends on how much work we want to put in and how much we want to buy in to be what we want to be. … They play as one."

Simmons said Collins' immediate reaction was only a smile and a laugh.

"You can't say that to me on day one," Collins said.

"But now, we do expect that."

Perhaps they'll discuss it during meals, or when they hang out. But they'll spend time together as friends, even if that potential was shaky at the start.

"Y'all saw his interviews," Simmons said. "I just wasn't sure. But everything turned out well. That's my guy now."

Images from Monday's training camp practice at State Farm Stadium.

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