On draft night, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks ostensibly lost his job. Drafting Zaven Collins in the first round, the Cardinals front office suggested that the Tulsa product was a bolt-on starter. It was later confirmed that the organization would grant Hicks permission to seek a trade.
Speaking to the media recently, Hicks revealed that Steve Keim told him he ‘could not compete’ for the spot during training camp. Yet Hicks is with the team, he’s leading drills and playing the consummate professional. Despite some below-average performances for the Cardinals, Hicks is, at least to Vance Joseph, somewhat in Arizona’s plans in 2021.
Vance Joseph Teases Jordan Hicks Sub-Package For Exiled Linebacker
Jordan Hicks Could Be A Starter Elsewhere
Jordan Hicks has started for the Cardinals for two years. He started for the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles team prior to his move to the desert. If Jordan Hicks wants to start in the NFL, he has the quality to do it. His struggles in coverage have punctuated his Cardinals career. However, it must be noted that Hicks led the team in tackles last season. Depending on Hicks’ aspirations for the upcoming year, there is a suggestion that the Cardinals should hold onto their shunned former starter.
Shiny new thing Zaven Collins took Hicks’ job. Paired with last year’s shiny new thing, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins are attractive prospects. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury called the pair ‘the prettiest linebacker duo’, ‘a pair of really tall trees in the middle of the field’. Freak athletes should be able to find a role on any team in today’s league. Yet the Cardinals head into the season with an inside linebacker group almost completely devoid of experience. The rookie and seldom-used sophomore starters are backed up by a similarly inexperienced group. Only fifth-year player Tanner Vallejo has any starting experience.
The Cardinals are neck-deep in their experiment at inside linebacker. If willing, Jordan Hicks can be a valuable contingency for this in 2021. As a backup, Hicks provides the Cardinals depth at middle linebacker. He offers his knowledge of the system and his abilities as a leader. Simmons struggled early in 2020; the Cardinals had DeVondre Campbell for cover. In Zaven Collins’ rookie outing, it might be sensible to keep Jordan Hicks around if they can. This also comes on the back of reports that there was an extremely limited if any market for Hicks in the off-season.
To 4-3, or Not To 4-3
If he sticks around, Hicks is going to have to get on the field. So far in training camp, we’ve seen that Vance Joseph is scheming for just that. Obviously, one way of doing such is as a replacement for either Collins or Simmons; injury, poor performance, those kinds of things. However, Joseph hinted that there are packages that could get all three on the field at once, and keen-eyed Cardinals fans may have noticed that at play during practice.
Let’s be clear. This will not be a 4-3 defense. Steve Wilks ruined that system for all Cardinals fans. Chandler Jones isn’t putting his hand in the dirt again. Vance Joseph’s sub-package might feature three inside linebackers on the field, but not all of them will be playing inside linebacker. Instead, utilizing the versatility of Isaiah Simmons will be the skeleton key that frees Hicks from the bench.
Only Simmons Can Set You Free
Linebackers coach Bill Davis revealed that, in his rookie year in 2020, Isaiah Simmons was coached at six different positions. Working within the confines of Arizona’s base 3-4 formation, Simmons fits into two roles in a projected 3 inside linebacker sub-package:
The first of these is a specialist edge rusher role. Without Chandler Jones last year, Vance Joseph got creative with his pass rush. The Cardinals saw success with their ‘Jet’ package, particularly through Simmons, who grabbed his interception against Russell Wilson in the formation, albeit in a different role. 2020 standout Dennis Gardeck thrived in the ‘Jet’ package, but with Gardeck down with an ACL for the early part of the season, Joseph could try to replicate his production with Simmons. Simmons has the size, speed, and length to be an effective edge rusher in certain situations.
What separates Simmons from the rest though, is his athleticism and coverage ability. He spent much of the 2020 College Football National Championship game in the slot for Clemson and could play a similar role for Arizona. Byron Murphy is entrenched as Arizona’s slot corner, but there are rumors that Murphy could move outside amid concerns about the second outside cornerback spot. Moving Simmons into the slot allows the Cardinals to keep Murphy on the field, as well as deploying the three inside linebackers at once. The beauty of having a player like Simmons in this fifth defensive back role is that the position becomes infinitely more fluid; Simmons can line up in the slot or at either safety position.
If Hicks chooses to leave the desert, he leaves an organization that has disrespected him over the last few months. However, it is clear that some in the organization still value him, namely Vance Joseph. As a backup, Hicks can be a valuable asset. In that regard, if he stays, the Cardinals will find a way to use him.
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