Cardinals’ Zaven Collins taking the good, the bad and the ugly from Year 1

TEMPE — Expectations outweighed the play of then-rookie linebacker Zaven Collins in 2021.

Anointed the starting MIKE backer of the defense last offseason, Collins came crashing down to earth hard, ending the year near the back of the depth chart and seeing a higher percentage of special team snaps (35%) than defensive (20%).

However you want to look at it, Collins’ first season in the NFL was underwhelming to say the least.

He’ll be the first to throw his name in the fire. He acknowledged how bad practices led to fewer snaps and how a pair of shoulder issues, on top of him trying to push through the second instance, played a big part in his downward spiral.

Collins is hoping the knowledge gained from his failures of last season can transform into this year’s successes. It’s all about taking the good, the bad and the ugly all in stride.

“It’s not going to be a Cinderella story always,” Collins said Thursday. “It’s life, that’s what it is. If everything was easy then it’d be too good to be true. You got to go through something. And if that’s the hardest thing I have to go through in my NFL career I think we’re going to be all right.

“I’m glad and not glad that it happened because you get to learn what it’s like to be a pro from Jordan (Hicks), from Budda (Baker), from JJ (Watt) and from DJ (Humphries), just talking to those guys. … Even when I wasn’t getting the reps I wanted or wanted to play more, I was still coming in, still keeping the same routine, fighting through it. That’s carried over to now where I still have the same routine of studying, of talking with the guys about certain things and it’s helped me.”

This offseason is already quite different for Collins, who is now without the veteran and former captain in Hicks to lean on as he tries to take over the reins as the quarterback of the defense.

But from the sounds of it, the workload of calling the defense and making plays may not rest only on the second-year pro as the continues defense to work through things this offseason.

In addition to adding another voice with a ton of experience in former Minnesota Vikings LB Nick Vigil, Collins said the inside backers room is focused on staying versatile at the position.

“The thing that we’re doing now in the inside room is we can all play,” Collins said. “We’re interchangeable in what we can do. So if we get a call that has three different parts to it, one of us can take the main part of the role and the other guy’s kind of just looking for where we’re going to set this blitz, where that’s what he’s doing and I’m trying to set the D-linemen up … or coverages and stuff like that. … That’s kind of helping us right now instead of having just one man do the whole thing.

“I could be the man in the middle, I could be somewhere in the middle but maybe not calling (the defense),” Collins added. “We don’t know what that is yet, so we’ll take that as we go into training camp. But I feel comfortable now obviously having a year under my belt and going through the whole entire playbook and obviously learning other positions.”

Collins’ honesty and self-awareness are refreshing following a rough rookie season.

While he’s saying all the right things, the only true test is when the pads come on and when the there’s an opponent to play.

But for now, it’s about limiting the mental errors and doing the little things right before training camp rolls around and things take reach another level on the practice field.

“Hopefully just making strides,” Collins said when asked how much better he can be having gone through last season. “As you get on the steps of success, they get shorter and shorter because it’s hard to make those big strides.

“I’ve made one big stride hopefully to make another big stride and each time you take those strides they become shorter and shorter because the fine-tuning of your craft becomes smaller and smaller.”