FOXBORO, Mass. — Jamie Collins had six weeks to adapt. Now, he may need to be thrown into the fire.
Collins is the fourth Patriots linebacker to be drafted in the first two rounds since 2008, when the team made Jerod Mayo the No. 10 overall pick. Since then, New England has drafted Brandon Spikes No. 62 overall, Dont’a Hightower No. 25 overall and Collins No. 52 overall.
Mayo, Spikes and Hightower all took on starting roles right away with the Patriots. Mayo’s first start came in Week 1 of 2008, Spikes’ in Week 2 of 2010 and Hightower’s in Week 1 of 2012. Collins has played just 52 snaps this season on defense, out of a total 422. With so many talented linebackers in front of him, it was an uphill climb to get reps to start the season.
But now that Mayo was placed on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, Collins’ snaps should dramatically increase. So far, Collins’ most active game came in Week 3, when he played 18 snaps against the Buccaneers.
Since the majority of Collins’ snaps have come in sub packages and on third down, he’s mostly been defending the pass. He has 37 snaps in coverage, 12 against the run and three as a pass rusher, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s undetermined whether Collins will be a starter in the base defense (Dane Fletcher could also get the nod), but he’ll likely at least see his reps increased there. That means he’ll have to get used to life as a run-stopping linebacker.
“Yeah, I’m a team guy,” Collins said about playing against the run. “Whatever it is, I’m gonna do it. Whatever it is, they put me in, I’m gonna do it.”
Collins has appeared more comfortable against the pass than the run this season. It’s a surprise, however, that he hasn’t been used as an outside rusher more. Collins spent his first season at Southern Miss as a safety, then moved to linebacker as a sophomore and further down to defensive end as a junior and senior. In those two seasons, Collins piled up 16 1/2 sacks. The Patriots’ pass rush has improved this season, but they’re still having trouble finishing and piling up sacks.
“I ain’t gonna say I miss it,” Collins said about rushing the passer. “But I’m a team guy. They put me in, whatever the circumstance is, I’m gonna do it, no matter what.”
New England has shown more looks in the 3-4 recently with Vince Wilfork out. While Mayo was still in, the alignment in the 3-4 had Rob Ninkovich and Hightower at outside linebacker and Spikes and Mayo on the outside. Hightower will likely shift to the inside and Collins could take his place on the outside. Given Collins’ athleticism and pass-rush abilities, that could be a great move for the rookie.
Collins is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds. He ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the combine with a 7.10-second three-cone drill and 4.32-second 20-yard shuttle. His most impressive display was in the explosion drills. He jumped 41 1/2 inches vertically and 11-foot-7 in the broad jump.
Since Ninkovich plays to the left side, he’ll likely have to keep containment on Geno Smith and perhaps play more of a linebacker role. Ninkovich will be in Smith’s eye line, so if he’s rushing, the Jets quarterback could easily cut to the outside and scramble. Ninkovich has experience at linebacker, he played the strong-side as a starter in 2011.
If Ninkovich is keeping back or staying on the edge, that could mean the other outside linebacker has more pass-rushing responsibilities. Enter Collins.
Collins could also help out in containing Smith. He’s the most athletic linebacker on the team, so he could be expected to play in the nickel, as well. Hightower will likely play the majority of snaps at linebacker, with Collins, Spikes and Fletcher sharing the rest.
Collins heavily stressed that he’s a team player while speaking with the media on Thursday. Whatever the team asks him to do, he’ll do it to the best of his ability.