Just five weeks into the his rookie season, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins believes his "welcome to the NFL moment" has already happened.
"I think my welcome to the NFL moment was probably against Kansas City (in the preseason), I got beat deep down the middle so that was not a good one," said Collins.
Week 5's victory over the San Francisco 49ers saw Collins play 52% of defensive snaps, a season-high for Arizona's first-round selection this year. Collins benefits from learning behind veteran Jordan Hicks, who has played in nearly every single snap for the Cardinals thus far.
That may come in jeopardy this Sunday when the team travels to Cleveland to take on the Browns, as Hicks' status is in the air with a toe injury.
Collins has paid his dues as a rookie, at least off the field. He and defensive end J.J. Watt recently went to lunch, where Collins picked up the tab. Collins says he learned a few things that day: Watt has no clue how to back his truck into a parking spot (it took "like an hour" for Watt to park according to Collins), and Watt very much knows how to consume sushi.
"They'd sit down like four plates of sushi and J.J.'s like a vacuum," said Collins. "I'm like, 'whoa, that's that's a lot of food. I'm done. I can't eat no more.' Yeah, but it was quite a bit of food. A lot of sushi."
Eventually, Collins will be expected to feast on the field along with Watt and the rest of the Cardinals defense. Growing pains are expected for every rookie, and Collins says he's no exception.
"You learn a lot of things in five games. You make a lot of mistakes. I've made tons of mistakes. (You have to) learn from each week, get better each week (and) learn new things," said Collins.
"Learn all these offenses (and how) some are similar and then some are completely different. Learning the different aspects of the game, different talents, what guys like to do on the offensive side. Yeah, I've learned a lot."
There's been a great deal of emphasis placed on stopping the run, as the Cardinals' Achilles heel on the defensive side of the ball couldn't be more exposed. A top-ranked Browns rushing attack (though without Nick Chubb this week) looks to take top priority on Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph spoke to media members on Thursday and said this week would be a good litmus test for where Collins is currently at.
"This week's going to be huge for him," said Joseph. "It's going to be a running game, It's no secret … So hopefully he's up for the task. He was drafted to do so."
With Hicks' status in the air, Collins says he'll be ready for anything.
"With some of the packages we have, me and him (Hicks) are on the field at the same time most of the time," said Collins.
"Continuously learning from him and then obviously being ready at any time because you never know when he's going to go down (is important). Like last game he could have went down or three games ago, so you always have to be ready. But I'm excited and if I could take on more, then I'm ready for it."
Hicks carries the coveted green dot on his helmet, relaying all play-calls brought down from his coaches through the headset under his padding. Although Hicks has played nearly triple the amount of snaps Collins has, the rookie linebacker has confidence in his ability to man the defense.
"With Jordan having the green dot, I help him (relay calls). We kind of duo it whenever we're in the huddle and on the field together," said Collins. "So he'll give me the call (and) I'm telling one part of the defense (when) he's telling the other … So we kind of work in tandem together and it's nice, so I'm ready to take over that role as well if it comes down to that."