One of the surprise moves of the offseason came in mid-May when the New England Patriots re-signed Jamie Collins to a one-year contract.
The Patriots selected Collins in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft but traded him away to the Cleveland Browns in 2016 before his rookie contract had expired. At the time of the trade, there were reports that Collins had been dealt because he was “freelancing” on defense. If that’s true, it didn’t get in the way of the Patriots bringing back the linebacker after he was released by the Browns in March.
Collins slid back into the Patriots’ defense this summer like he had never been gone.
“Jamie has three more years of experience,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “And so he’s very — he’s always been a smart football player. I think he’s more aware and just more experienced than he was when he was here before. He’s done a really good job for us.
“We’ve asked him to fill multiple positions defensively. He’s done that. He did that before, but he’s, I’d say, probably expanded that a little bit. His experience allows him to communicate with more confidence — calls, adjustments, things like that, alerts that he picks up. He works well with (Dont’a Hightower), Elandon (Robert), all of the linebackers. He does a job of of that, Kyle (Van Noy). They all work well together. He’s done a good job.”
During the preseason, Collins was playing inside linebacker in the Patriots’ nickel defense and outside linebacker in their base 3-4. Belichick was asked what kind of traits a player must possess to be able to take on those different roles. He compared Collins to some former Patriots greats.
“We have a number of guys who do that,” Belichick said. “So, it helps to have length, especially when you’re playing on the end of the line and power to be able to set the edge. But it’s really, instinctively, it’s more of a challenge. Seeing the game from the on the line of scrimmage to seeing the game off the line of scrimmage is kind of like two different games. It’s not really the same. Some players are very good off the line. Some are very good on the line. But it’s hard for players to do both. So, that takes a lot of work. It takes an instinctive player to do that, to understand how to fit on blocking schemes on the inside out, how to fit on pass rush and run defense from the outside in for the most part. It’s kind of like learning how to play corner and safety at the same time. They’re two different — they’re both secondary, but you’re looking at the game from two different angles, really.
“Again, we have players who do that and linebackers who are very instinctive like Hightower, Van Noy and Jamie all fit into that category. We’ve had some of those guys in the past like Vrabel and Ninkovich, guys like that.”
The versatile linebacker has been a staple of the Patriots defense since Belichick was hired in 2000. As Belichick mentioned, the Patriots have three unique players in Collins, Van Noy and Hightower who can clog rushing lanes and blitz from the inside and set the edge and rush the passer from the outside.
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