By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots are expecting bigger and better things from Jamie Collins in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
Perhaps no player on the New England Patriots is expected to improve more in his second season than linebacker Jamie Collins. The Patriots saw a flash of what Collins can bring to the table in 2013 and now expectations are high for the 2nd year player from Southern Mississippi.
With a year in the strength and conditioning program, he’s a bit stronger and thicker. Collins was already a freakishly athletic specimen at 6’3, 250 when he was drafted by the Patriots last season with the 52nd pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
He’s now much more comfortable with the Patriots playbook and the defense as a whole. And after a year of playing in the NFL including two playoff games, he’s primed to be an even bigger contributor as a starter this season.
“I’m just trying to pick up where I left off from. Always try to get better every day,” he said. “I know a lot more, playing faster. Last year I had to learn everything, but now I know most of it. But you know, there’s always more room for improvement.”
Collins started off slowly and in reality wasn’t expected to make a big impact in his rookie season. But a season-ending injury to Jerod Mayo forced him into the starting lineup down the stretch. His stats were good but far from eye-popping until the playoff game against the Colts.
The full measure of what kind of potential he has came to bear in that game with six tackles, a QB sack, three QB hits and an interception leaving fans begging for more. Now as a starter, he’ll be looked to for increased production in his second season.
Bill Belichick stated during training camp last season that the biggest jump in a player’s development is between the first and second year. “I think the second year is an opportunity for a player to take all of his experiences in the first year – on the field, off the field – having in our case, a second year in the same system and be able to build on that, know what to expect, know how different situations or things apply in various situations, what they’re used for.”
Collins has already drawn raves from veteran Dont’a Hightower for his maturity and intelligence.
“With Jamie I feel like he’s blossomed a lot sooner than anybody. I feel like he was a lot more mature than some people are in their third year,” Hightower said. “Him coming in and learning the way he did his first year, you couldn’t tell that he wasn’t a third or a fourth year player. He’s helping out a lot; He’s getting the younger guys in there, watching film, and getting everything situated with them. Just like Mayo said: We have old souls. We mature a lot faster.”
Collins told the media on Thursday that the plan was for him was to play faster this season. Collins is the kind of versatile player that Bill Belichick loves on his defense. He can do it all, rush the quarterback, cover tight ends deep in the middle of the field and be fast enough to cover backs out of the backfield.
And fans can expect him to be doing a lot more in the new-look Patriots defense. One of the reasons they can cut him loose more is another added piece to the puzzle.
The recent addition of linebacker James Anderson will have a big impact on the Patriots’ defense and Collins this season. A full time starter with the Panthers and then the Bears last season, Anderson had over 100 tackles and four sacks for the Bears in 2013. Anderson’s forte is coverage, he’s not a run thumper in the Brandon Spikes mold but with the 270 pound Hightower in the middle, the Patriots needed some added depth and coverage skills for their sub-packages.
“I’m a little bit smaller (6’2, 235), than most of the other guys around here so, to make up for that, I’m going to have to be fast and be able to cover,” Anderson said after OTAs on Thursday.
Anderson 30, has always been thought of as positive influence for the rookies and younger players and thus far in New England, he’s been saying all the right things, repeating the Patriots mantra of team over self as if he’s been here three years instead of two weeks.
Collins and Anderson now give the Patriots a pair of athletic linebackers that can cover or rush the passer. With the added depth, it improves their options and makes the defense that much more potent.
With the earlier additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner for the revamped secondary, it should allow Belichick to be much more aggressive on defense, especially in their sub-packages, which they played in approximately 67 percent of the time in 2013.
The return of Tommy Kelly from injury and the drafting of defensive tackle Dominique Easley should give the Patriots the interior pass rush it has been searching for the past several seasons. Defensive End Will Smith was signed to bolster the depth at the edge.
One of the players who can expect to get cut loose much more this season is Collins as he can rush off the edge and with his speed and athleticism be a difficult man to stop. The pieces are all in place, now they just have to produce on the field.
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