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Paying Homage to Jordan Hicks

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow-Arizona Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Yesterday, the Arizona Cardinals released their captain MIKE linebacker Jordan Hicks. The move added $6.5M of much needed cap space for the team.

Last off-season, after agreeing to restructure his contract, Jordan Hicks found himself on the outside looking in when the Cardinals drafted linebacker Zaven Collins, with the intention of moving him into Hicks’ spot at the MIKE.

Jordan Hicks didn’t perform any social media scrubs. Instead, he respectfully asked the Cardinals to trade him. When no trade materialized, Hicks stayed with the club, swallowed his pride and went back to work.

This season more than any other, what Cardinals’ fans learned about Jordan Hicks is that he is a paragon of resiliency, class and grace. The man never complained. He welcomed Zaven Collins with open arms. And he went out on the field to compete to the best of his ability.

Not only did Jordan Hicks earn the starting nod at MIKE, he was elected captain for the second year in a row by his teammates.

What gave Hicks the edge was his complete understanding of Vance Joseph’s defense and his outstanding ability to make the defensive calls and organize the alignments.

If you have ever heard Jordan Hicks talk, you understand what a charismatic and articulate communicator he is. Jordan Hicks talks like a veteran NFL coach. And, after he retires as a player, he could make a smooth transition into coaching, if that is what he intends to do.

What was and remains confusing for me and perhaps a number of Cardinals’ fans was trying to figure out why Jordan Hicks was being used at the MIKE linebackers spot in such an unconventional manner. Just as Kyler Murray plays most of his snaps camped on a spot five yards behind the center in a shotgun formation, Jordan Hicks was repeatedly camped on a spot 5-6 yards from the football.

On running plays, it was difficult to know exactly what Jordan Hicks’ keys were. An educated guess was that he was keying on the play-side guard, because it rarely seemed as if he was keying on the running back, as most MIKE linebackers are instructed to do —- you know, the old hat on a hat assignment.

As a result, Jordan Hicks made the vast majority of his tackles (118 in 2021) in the neighborhood of 4-8 yards from the line of scrimmage. Because of the consistency of Jordan Hick’s approach, one can reasonably assume that Hicks was doing what DC Vance Joseph and LBC Billy Davis were instructing him to do within the frameworks of their “bend, but don’t break” philosophy.

If the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy was indeed the case, then versus the run, Jordan Hicks was danged good at what he was asked to do —- which was basically to make as many tackles as he could within a 4 x 5 yard box.

In pass coverage, Jordan Hicks showed marked improvement this season playing the hook areas of the Cardinals’ zones. However, in man-to-man coverage, as was the case with the majority of his fellow 3-4 linebackers, Jordan Hicks was given coverage assignments on TEs and RBs that put him at a competitive disadvantage. Despite that, one could not fault Jordan Hicks for the effort he made in trying to cover his man.

In today’s NFL, classic run stuffing MIKE linebackers are no longer in vogue, The trend now amongst DCs is to play smaller, faster hybrid-type athletes who possess the speed to cover running backs. What DCs are looking for are 3 down linebackers who are equally effective making tackles versus the run as they are in making plays in tight pass coverage. Finding defenders who can tackle and cover with equal consistency is not easy.

While Jordan Hicks had his fair share of struggles in man coverage —- if you recall, in the playoff game versus the Rams, Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford on several occasions tried to isolate Jordan Hicks in man coverage on Sony Michel and Cam Akers, whom they sent out of the backfield on out passes and wheel routes. One wheel route to Akers was featured on the 40 yard flea flicker pass from Odell Beckham, Jr. On that play, Jordan Hicks had the discipline to stay in coverage on Akers, but without prompt safety help, Akers was able to beat Hicks up the sidelines. Again, one can’t blame Jordan Hicks for a blown assignment or for a poor effort. It was a play that most linebackers would have had a hard time covering.

However, turning back to the strengths of Jordan Hicks’ game, one area where he perhaps excels the most is in storming the A and B gaps on pass blitzes (pictured above). This past season, Jordan Hicks recorded 17 QB pressures and 4 sacks. Hicks’ blitzing ability in itself, could carve him a special niche wherever he plays next season. He is relentless in that role.

It is great to see Jordan Hicks getting some much deserved credit from the national media. Adam Schefter did Hicks some well earned justice here.

In terms of the ,local pundits, The Burd’s Eye View gave Hicks some well deserved props in this short video. Kudos, well said, Burd’s Eye,

Thank you, Captain Jordan Hicks, for the key role you played in helping to lead the Cardinals to 11 wins and the team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2015. You are a winner, both as an NFL player and as a man of character. Best wishes to you on the next leg of your NFL journey. Huge respect for you, #58.

What a great tape this is:

Jordan Hicks to his teammates: “I love y’all. boyz!”