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On-the-job training

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by wischeez, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. wischeez

    wischeez Cheesehead

    Dec 4, 2004
    In two years, Collins goes from promising to solid

    Posted: Oct. 4, 2008

    Green Bay - If it were two years ago and Nick Collins faced the same situation that he did recently against the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers safety probably would have given up a touchdown to tight end Jason Witten.

    Two weeks ago, the Cowboys lined up two wide receivers to the left and Witten in the standard tight end position. The slot receiver, Terrell Owens, and Witten both ran to the end zone, and Collins, stationed near the goal line, was forced to decide which of the twin post routes he should help cover.

    He chose Witten, undercut the route, intercepted Tony Romo’s pass 4 yards deep in the end zone and ran it back 61 yards to the Dallas 43.

    “I know I would have stayed back two years ago,” Collins said. “I know I would have. Just studying film you know what they’re trying to do to you. Dallas works the tight end a lot. He catches a lot of balls on offense. That’s how I got that read.”

    That interception wasn’t much different from the one he returned 42 yards for a touchdown against Detroit in Week 2, or the one he snared on the sideline against Tampa Bay last Sunday. After three years of appearing to lack the instincts and knowledge to play the position, Collins finally is starting to make a difference.

    He is tied with cornerback Charles Woodson for the team lead in interceptions (three), he ranks third on the team in tackles with 26 and has broken up six passes, second only to Woodson’s 10. This season has been a far cry from the previous three years, when he had a total of four interceptions and no sacks.

    “He’s just getting better,” secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer said. “We thought his time would come and he’s just a tremendous athlete. He’s very, very competitive. I’m just happy with his success because these are things we knew were there.”

    Upon becoming the Packers’ general manager in 2005, Ted Thompson spent his first two draft choices on players he hoped would be the foundation of their respective units: quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Collins. When he made the Collins pick, the team was bereft of safeties, having let go veteran Darren Sharper in the off-season and possessing little else at the position.

    Collins came in with startling physical ability, but some questioned whether he was smart enough to play safety and loose enough to play cornerback. Thompson couldn’t pass on a 206-pound guy who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and registered a 40-inch vertical leap at the scouting combine, even if he played at tiny Bethune-Cookman.

    Thompson gave Collins the same No. 36 uniform number as former Packers all-pro safety LeRoy Butler and stuck him in the middle of the defense. Collins played with the likes of Mark Roman, Marquand Manuel, Marviel Underwood, Tyrone Culver, Jeremy Thornburg and Todd Franz, none of whom were around very long.

    “Basically, I had to learn everything on my own,” Collins said.

    Especially in those first two years, Collins was a disappointment. His speed was evident and from time to time you could see there was special talent there, but he almost always seemed to be a step slow recognizing how plays were breaking down in front of him, and he almost never jumped routes the way he does now.

    “It’s mental,” Woodson said. “I was no different. When I came in, I was athletic. I had a lot of talent. I could play football. He’s the same way. You rely a lot on the natural ability and you play the game you play for a long time, you’re not necessarily breaking the game down. Now he’s realizing with a little bit more studying, and studying the right way, the game will become easier.”

    Schottenheimer said Collins is a devoted note-taker, who spends his time during meetings writing everything down. He said he has a notebook for each of his first three seasons with the Packers and continues to be attentive to detail.

    It wasn’t, however, until Woodson joined the team in 2006 and later embraced the role of mentor to players like Collins, Atari Bigby and Tramon Williams that Collins started to see things differently. Woodson studies film religiously, but he doesn’t watch it without a specific purpose.

    Collins noticed that and began to change his approach.

    “I always studied hard, but I think I’m studying smarter, understanding what the opponent is trying to do to us,” Collins said. “Going on my fourth year and working with Charles and the veterans, they helped me work on studying film.

    “It pays off. I know if somebody is shallow on the left, somebody is coming high on the right. That’s just a lot of film work. I’m grateful to have him (Woodson) on my team.”

    Perhaps Collins’ most impressive play as a professional was his interception against the Buccaneers last week. Playing a middle safety position, Collins ran from the right hash mark to the sideline to intercept quarterback Brian Griese, leading Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden to say after the game, “I don’t think Brian Griese in his career has seen a middle safety break like Collins did in that particular situation.”

    Perhaps the best part of the play was the way Collins timed his leap in front of tight end Jeremy Stevens to catch the ball at its peak.

    “Let me tell you something about Nick Collins,” backup safety Charlie Peprah said. “Physically Nick Collins can do whatever he wants. He has no limitations as a safety. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick. He is a Pro Bowl safety. He has Hall of Fame talent.”

    Woodson’s influence has been the greatest, and one of the things he has been able to relate to Collins is that he shouldn’t try to remember everything he sees on tape. In his later years, Woodson can digest more information than he did before, but he still limits what he takes into each game.

    His focus is to prepare himself so he recognizes certain plays the offense will invariably go to.

    “What you have to do is pick out tendencies a team is going to have to where you know in the game that’s going to happen,” Woodson said. “When you get in the game and you see a play you know you’ve seen, you have to trust the fact that’s going to happen. You have to go and make the play. He’s trusting what he’s seeing.”

    Collins still has parts of his game that need refinement. He got burned for a long play against the Cowboys because he was sloppy with his footwork, and he dropped an interception that could have changed the game against the Buccaneers.

    But for the first time in his career, he’s playing with total confidence in his ability and backing it up with his performance. A bad back has affected him since the Cowboys game, but not so much that he couldn’t catch Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham from behind.

    “It takes awhile in this league and not just with quarterbacks,” Peprah said. “They say it takes two or three years, that’s any position. You see Charles Woodson, he’s playing the best he’s ever played. He knows the game inside and out. And that’s going to be exciting watching Nick when he gets to that point. Hopefully, he stays healthy. He’s going to be an amazing talent to watch.”

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