Rookie LB Zaven Collins quietly has lost spot in defensive rotation

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Things have changed quite a bit from draft night when the Arizona Cardinals selected linebacker Zaven Collins and general manager Steve Keim told defensive coordinator Vance Joseph he would be a Week 1 starter.

Veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks was told he could not compete for the starting job.

Collins got the first-team reps in training camp. He has been listed as the starter at MIKE linebacker all season on the team’s depth chart.

However, once the regular season began, Hicks was the starter and Collins was given a starting role in their base defense.

Joseph created a package that put him, Hicks and Isaiah Simmons on the field all at the same time. In their base defense, Hicks and Collins would play inside and Simmons would play the edge, basically as an outside linebacker opposite Chandler Jones.

Collins would come off the field in sub packages, as Simmons would go back inside and a pass rusher would take over at the edge.

It was a specific, defined role for Collins and, if we are to believe PFF grades, he thrived. He has graded out as a very respectable 71.7.

But beginning in Week 9, he stopped playing on defense.

Tanner Vallejo replaced him in the lineup. Collins played in garbage time against the 49ers and, against the Panthers in Week 10, replaced Vallejo when he went down with a knee injury.

Kliff Kingsbury said that Vallejo, having been in the system three years, had earned the playing time. It has been clear the last two seasons that they do like Vallejo.

However, when Vallejo was placed on injured reserve, one would think that Collins would then get his snaps back.

He didn’t.

Against the Seattle Seahawks, he did not play a single defensive snap.

Joseph adjusted the base defense to move Simmons back inside with Hicks and having two outside linebackers on the field.

He played special teams but was not part of the defensive plan.

Does this mean he was a bust of a pick?

Absolutely not, but it does raise concerns.

As a rookie, Simmons had very limited playing time. However, his role increased as the season progressed. Joseph believes Simmons was the best defensive rookie in the league at the end of the season.

Collins, though, has seen his role decrease and even disappear. He didn’t even get to play because of injury.

He clearly doesn’t have the trust of his coaches yet or has lost their trust for mental mistakes.

He has made plays and analytic sites like PFF believe he has been effective, but if he really were playing well, he would be on the field more, right?

There are still six games left and then (hopefully) the postseason for Collins to turn things around, but we have to call it the way we see it. Collins just isn’t good enough to play for a potential championship defense — yet.

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