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Jordan Hicks Finds Some Peace, Again Leading Defense

Rookie Zaven Collins still trying to find footing within system

Linebacker Jordan Hicks raises his finger at the crowd after one of his sacks in Chicago last weekend while being hugged by teammate Dennis Gardeck.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks raises his finger at the crowd after one of his sacks in Chicago last weekend while being hugged by teammate Dennis Gardeck.

Jordan Hicks has always been the person from which others have sought counsel, the wise voice from whom to take advice.

But then the veteran linebacker found last offseason he was the one in need of counsel. The Cardinals were telling him he had lost his starting job to a rookie who had yet to play a down. Frustrated, Hicks tried to fall back to a popular player mantra: "control what you can control."

Easy to say. Much more difficult to live.

"That was something going through OTAs and going through the whole offseason, I needed time to process and get to that point to be able to come in with a smile on my face," Hicks said Friday. "It's not easy. And it's not something that happens overnight. But when you get faced with a situation, there comes a crossroads, 'Am I going to be this person? Or that person?' "

Hicks had his faith to lean on, as well as a surrounding cast of family and friends for support. But for him to be 12 games into this season coming off another excellent game – 13 tackles and two sacks, winning him the first Defensive Player of the Week award in his career – for a 10-2 team, it's a twist in a story that feels like it would have been unbelievable if suggested back in May.

Since he arrived as a free agent in 2019, Hicks has been steadfast in his motivation – respect. He made that plain well before any of the offseason drama (including a paycut before Zaven Collins was drafted in the first round, and a trade request) played out.

So when Collins was drafted, and more specifically, Hicks was told Collins would be the starter without on-field competition, "I felt disrespected, right? Simple as that," Hicks said. "I came in with a point to prove."

"Any player in that situation, that's my job, to prove them wrong," Hicks added. "That they were making a mistake and I still have a lot left in the tank."

With a career-best five sacks and a team-leading 95 tackles, he's having a good season. His best? Even Hicks says that is subjective, and his 2019 season (156 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions) was excellent. But on a winning team, "everybody's success gets amplified."

Given where he was a few months ago, his play – and how he got here – is more than that.

Hicks was asked if he felt "vindicated." He shook his head.

"Not vindicated," Hicks said. "That's not necessarily the right word. I think it shows the mindset, the mental toughness that has been brought forth to continue to push with a smile on my face."

It's been noticed. His teammates never wondered – Chandler Jones called Hicks "the heart of our defense" – but GM Steve Keim, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and coach Kliff Kingsbury have been generous with their praise of how Hicks dealt with his situation.

"I just think it's the nature of the business," Kingsbury said. "You're always trying to find the next guy that can come in and be younger and be cheaper. It just is what it is. Jordan handled this the way you would want it.

"If I had a son, I'd want my son to handle it the way that he did. The professionalism, the poise, he just didn't blink and kept doing his job and showed everybody how good he is."

It's been crucial. Not only has Hicks played well, but Collins has not been able to keep up. Collins did deal with a recent injury, but was supplanted by veteran Tanner Vallejo nonetheless. Over the last four games, Collins has played a total of 32 defensive snaps, and 23 came in the blowout loss to the Panthers.

His work ethic is not in question, Joseph said. Anyone drawing a straight parallel to fellow linebacker Isaiah Simmons as a rookie and Collins is missing the difference in their inside linebacker roles.

"With all rookies that have to be the playcaller, that's tough," Joseph said. "That's a learned deal with time. Having Hicksy has been fine for him. It's a tough spot for a rookie.

"He's not discouraged by any means. We need him, he's a big part of our defense still."

Hicks called Collins "an amazing person" and said Collins will eventually become a "great player in this league."

In the meantime, Hicks will keep controlling what he can control -- which includes what play the defense has called each snap.

"I always told myself I was not going to be the vet who was bullying the young guy, not giving up information and isolating them because I was in fear of my job," Hicks said. "That is counterintuitive to me.

"When you're confident in your job and you're confident in the way you can do it on the field, it doesn't matter who has the information – my confidence level is you can't do it better than me."

Images of selected Cardinals player cleats that will be worn Monday night for "My Cause, My Cleats."

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