The linebackers coach (and Giants legend) praised Collins for his football smarts, versatility, personality and aggression. Collins has been lining up all over the field throughout the first three training camp practices, from strong-side linebacker in 4-3 alignments to outside linebacker in the 3-4 to defensive end. One may assume it would be difficult for a 23-year-old to have that much on his plate, but Johnson said it’s not quite as hard for the Southern Miss product.
“It’s definitely difficult in this program because we do so much,” Johnson said. “But it probably would be a lot harder for a lot of other guys. But Jamie — I don’t think it’s as hard. I’m not saying it’s not difficult for him. But it’s not as hard because he comes in with a good football frame of mind. It’s not just the terminology like with a lot of veterans. There are some techniques and stuff that we use that he never did before, never heard of. But his enjoyment for the game, his heart for the game, his passion for the game really helps.”
Collins started his college career as a safety before moving down to linebacker, then even further down to defensive end. He will likely end up using all those skills he learned at Southern Miss in the NFL. Johnson said that experience can only help him adjust to different roles with the Patriots, as well.
Johnson compared it to how he played multiple positions in high school. Since he played offense and defense, he could understand how to beat his opposition.
“Yes, that works tremendous,” Johnson said. “Jamie understands how to play the deep ball because he played safety. I’m expected big things if a running back runs a wheel route on him. It’s stuff like that that’s a plus for us. That’s a plus for him. To put it that way. That he’s seen the game in so many different views that he understands it a lot better. I just have to figure out how to explain certain things to get it across, but once he gets a grasp on it, once he gets a few reps, he’s functional. He can go out and do it.”
Collins appears to be picking up the defense quickly during practice. He looks adept in coverage, rushing and in filling lanes. It helps that he has some great mentors to lead him on the way, starting with a two-time Pro Bowler like Johnson, but extending to Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes. Johnson said Collins is fitting in with his new teammates very well so far.
“He fits our room and that’s first and foremost. For me, it’s a pleasure because I look forward to looking into that room, when I close the door and get them all to myself,” Johnson said. “We can just talk football and everybody understands. I don’t lose anyone’s attention. Because those guys want to play football. They like the challenges.”
Collins is one of the biggest athletic freaks on the Patriots roster. Listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds (though Johnson thinks he’s lighter), Collins ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, jumped 41 1/2 inches in the vertical and broad jumped 11-foot-7. Johnson said athleticism is great, but loving football is more important. Collins can do a standing back flip, so Johnson quipped that if the linebacker can’t make it out on the football field, they may have to hire him as a male cheerleader.
“He’s a competitor and he’s going to compete when he’s out on the field,” Johnson said. “That’s what I like. His athleticism, if it doesn’t transfer out there to the football field, then we’ll start hiring male cheerleaders or something and he can do a couple flips that way. He wants to be out there. It’s just another guy to add to a very good linebacker corps. That makes everybody a plus. That makes everybody feel good. To have someone else to add on that you don’t feel like you have to watch him or that you have to carry him whatsoever.”
Needless to say, Johnson is happy with the new acquisition. It remains to be seen how the Patriots will play Mayo, Spikes, Hightower and Collins (especially since Rob Ninkovich can also serve a similar role as Hightower and Collins), but it’s never bad to bring in another linebacker, especially someone with the athleticism of Collins.
“I think Coach Belichick did a great job of getting a linebacker in here,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of him understanding the game, which he does. He kind of came ready with a lunch pail. It’s just a matter of us putting the sandwiches and the milk up in the lunch pail. He’s a guy that understands football. So that makes it easier for me to help try to guide him.”
Spikes and Ninkovich’s contracts are up after this season, so if Collins can fit in as well as Johnson thinks he can, he could have a starting role by next year.