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The Time Is Now For Zaven Collins

After difficult rookie season, expectations remain for former first-round pick

Linebacker Zaven Collins runs through a play during training cam\[p practice on Tuesday.
Linebacker Zaven Collins runs through a play during training cam\[p practice on Tuesday.

Zaven Collins wants defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to know one thing: he's ready to contribute more.

The 2021 first-round pick was supposed to do so last year, but it didn't happen. The inside linebacker will try again, and the pressure to produce only increases again.

"It just comes with the territory," Collins said with a laugh.

Collins was drafted to replace veteran Jordan Hicks as the starter immediately, but coaches soon learned he wasn't quite ready. He struggled to process information quickly and seemed indecisive in decision-making.

That's changed, according to fellow linebacker Isaiah Simmons, after what had happened in offseason work and camp so far.

"He's not thinking as much and knows what to do," Simmons said. "He has really matured and taken ownership of the defense."

The most defensive snaps Collins received last season was in Week 11 against Carolina and Week 17 against Dallas, finishing the year with a solid 69.3 Pro Football Focus grade.

Overall, though, his rookie year became a learning experience. He had just 20 percent of defensive snaps while most of his usage came on special teams. In 17 games, Collins had just 25 tackles and three pass deflections.

Hicks still helped Collins throughout the season, giving him advice whenever possible. With Hicks now in Minnesota, the team signed linebacker Nick Vigil as the replacement veteran this offseason.

"I just tried to stay the course," Collins said. "Tough times beat you up, but the sun always rises tomorrow. I just tried to take it day by day, and now we're here."

Collins' isn't being grandiose in his goals. His plan is simple, one he has already told quarterback Kyler Murray. "We have to get the ball back to you."

Beyond that, the Cardinals and Collins are still figuring it out. Calling plays, for instance. The Cardinals have several players capable of doing so, and the final decision is yet to be made on who will wear the green dot.

But Collins emphasized whether he has it or not, his job won't change. "Everything goes through us," Collins said. "We're the communication throughout the entire defense."

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said he's seen a change in Collins. The increase in confidence and decision-making on defense, both he believes, are imperative for Collins to take the next step.

"Last year, I thought he waited for the play to come to him," Kingsbury. "He's still learning, but there's no doubt he's moving faster than last year. He's a big, fast, strong, sharp kid and just has to continue working."

Images from the Red and White Practice during 2022 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium