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With Missing Linebackers, Cardinals Could Turn To Zaven Collins

Rookie might get some work on the outside with Golden, Kennard down

With Covid hitting the Cardinals' outside linebackers, Zaven Collins might have a role at the position this weekend in Dallas.
With Covid hitting the Cardinals' outside linebackers, Zaven Collins might have a role at the position this weekend in Dallas.

Zaven Collins hasn't played much on defense of late at inside linebacker.

With Covid running through the outside linebacker corps this week, the rookie first-round pick may see some work there instead.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Collins has gotten some reps at outside linebacker all season in practice, and if needed, Collins may be the one called upon to fill the void.

"We have a plan for it," Joseph said about the absence of Markus Golden and Devon Kennard. "These guys are both guys we plan on each week to play for us and play good for us.

"Absolutely Zaven could have a role as an outside 'backer this week. We'll see how the week goes."

Chandler Jones will start on one side but on the other? The Cardinals have Dennis Gardeck and Victor Dimukeje and likely would call up veteran Tahir Whitehead from the practice squad. There is also a good chance Isaiah Simmons will get some snaps outside.

Excluding the blowout loss to Carolina in Week 10, Collins has played only nine defensive snaps since the win over Houston on Oct. 24, spanning seven non-Panthers games. Collins has been a regular contributor on special teams.

With Simmons and Jordan Hicks – and Tanner Vallejo and Joe Walker – getting inside linebacker snaps ahead of Collins, putting the rookie outside might not just be necessary but also welcome. Golden, seeing a tweet about the possibility of Collins, responded "He's ready! Been working hard since he got here!"

General Manager Steve Keim, during an appearance on the "Burns and Gambo" show on Arizona's Sports Station Thursday, said Collins makes sense as an option.

"When you look at (Collins') skillset, his length and his athleticism and his speed, I wouldn't say it's exactly like (former Cardinal) Haason Reddick, but there are some components of his game that are similar," Keim said. "(Zaven) is a versatile guy who can play inside or out."

Collins wouldn't be the only intriguing possibility outside. Rookie sixth-round pick Dimukeje has also found a role on special teams, but when drafted he was compared to Golden in both stature and motor.

"He's a bright kid, he's powerful, he can set an edge, he's a good rusher," Joseph said. "He'll have a chance to play Sunday and prove his worth."

Then there is Gardeck. Gardeck had never played defense up until Jones' injury in Week 6 last season and he responded with a ridiculous seven sacks in limited snaps. But he tore his ACL late in the season and Joseph said Gardeck has just now gotten back to where he was a season ago.

Gardeck has resumed getting his 15-20 defensive snaps a game, although he has yet to notch a sack this season.

"I think he's close to having a big game," Joseph said. "This guy, if he gets multiple opportunities, he will make some plays."

With the new Covid protocols, Golden could in theory have a chance to be back for the game (although he'd have to be asymptomatic). Coincidentally, when Golden tore his ACL in 2017, it was another rookie inside linebacker – Reddick – who took his spot at outside linebacker.

Now maybe Collins will get his chance.

"Every team has issues right now, and that's part of the deal," Joseph said. "It's the team that can handle those issues the best are the teams that can come out of these funks. That's where we are."

Images of the Cardinals Cheerleaders from our Week 16 game against the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Day.