The Patriots knew what they were getting in Jamie Collins when they selected him in the second round of this year’s draft. On Friday night, they finally got to see it full-speed in game action.
The rookie was impressive in his first on-field action in the NFL, showing off his versatility as well as the athleticism scouts coveted so dearly throughout the draft process. Collins mostly played on his feet as an outside linebacker, running with the second-team defense, but he did also drop down onto the defensive line on a few times and even spread out wide to cover the slot receiver on occasion. That sort of versatility is exactly the skill set that Bill Belichick covets and what the Patriots’ defense desperately needs.
Last season, the Patriots struggled to rush the passer consistently and their linebackers seemed almost incapable of covering anyone out in the flat. Collins can help in both of those areas this year, just as he showed in the Patriots 31-22 win over the Eagles on Friday.
Collins was something of a mixed bag in the preseason opener, but, for the most part at least, the good outweighed the bad. On his first series of the game, Collins rushed quarterback Nick Foles twice. He was stood up at the line on the first rush, getting no pressure into the backfield, but he came blazing through a gap in the offensive line the second time but missed out on the sack as he ran right by a scrambling Foles. The pressure alone was enough to raise a few eyebrows and ease any feelings of concern about a situational rusher. It’s not to say Collins will be that guy consistently, or at all, this season, but it’s comforting to know that he’s capable of it.
He didn’t excel in coverage on night one, like many thought he would, be he did show off enough speed to stick with tight ends. Collins will need to work on his lateral quickness and changing directions if he plans to cover running backs, but the coverage was sufficient for his first real action. One area where he did impress, unexpectedly, too, was in defending the run. Collins lit up Eagles running back Bryce Brown at the line of scrimmage, stopping him for a one-yard gain, early in the second quarter. He also helped down on the line on a few other runs and screen passes, not recording anything on the stat sheet but providing help nonetheless.
The game still seemed to be moving a bit fast for Collins on the whole, but he managed to make enough good reads on the offense and showed improved reaction time as the game rolled on. He’ll definitely face some growing pains this season, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the versatility is a definite plus. And when he finally settles down and it all comes together, he’s going to be good.