Jamie Collins: New England's Most Dangerous Linebacker
Among the countless number of Patriot-related headlines this offseason, one of the rare on-the-field stories has surrounded the depleted defensive unit of the Patriots. Many, including myself, have speculated there will be a scheme change and some gaping holes in the defensive backfield as a consequence, and I'd like to touch upon this notion.
Although cliché, and frankly as irksome as continually listening to analysts praise the“Patriot Way,” the notion that “Bill Belichick always finds a way” seemingly holds water every season. This year, the future Hall of Fame coach has managed to piece together arguably the best linebacking corps in the league to compensate for a potentially disastrous year in the defensive backfield.
The Patriots’ unofficial depth chart lists three starting linebackers, Dont ‘a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jerod Mayo. Each of New England’s backers are versatile, unique, and battle-tested and are either entering or still in the prime of their respective careers. Among the three, the standout is Jamie Collins, the most naturally gifted of all.
Coach Belichick has praised Jamie Collins publicly more than everyone on last season’s defensive unit combined. The 6'3, 250 pound outside linebacker from Southern Miss possesses the versatility, strength, and football IQ that would impress any coach. Surely that’s why Coach Belichick, when asked about Collins, referred to him in the same breath as Lawrence Taylor when describing his playing style. Collins’4.59 second forty-yard dash and 41 ½ inch vertical are only a few measurables that can help us try to comprehend the 25 year-old’s potential, but it’s what he’s done on the field that has earned him well-deserved praise.
Jamie Collins’ pure athleticism allows us to beg the question: ‘why shouldn’t he be playing cornerback this year?’ And I'm only sort of kidding… as an outside linebacker in NewEngland’s scheme, Collins is asked to drop into coverage on nearly every snap. Here, Collins reads the quarterback’s eyes, maneuvers downfield, and stays with the athletic Jace Amaro to make a phenomenal interception.
To add to that, the Patriots’ young star had a total of four sacks on the season, including this one on Philip Rivers, where he exemplifies his athletic prowess in a more explosive manner. Collins also had an eerily similar sack the week before in Green Bay against league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
With a combined 115 tackles, Collins made his presence felt defending the run as well. His speed allows him to cover an incredible amount of ground in the running game, and having forced four fumbles and recovering two as well, his instincts for the ball are unmatched.
Arguably the most impressive attribute of Collins is his ability to step up in “big game” situations. In his rookie season, Collins started a mere eight games, and truly gained recognition following his stellar performance against the Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. He knocked Andrew Luck down three times, sacking him once and intercepting him, and two of his six tackles were made for a loss.
The following season, Collins’ playoff dominance continued. After an eleven-tackle game against Baltimore, he harassed Andrew Luck for a second year straight in the AFC Championship, and yet again intercepted the Colts quarterback in New England’s 45-7 victory. An eight-tackle Super Bowl saw Collins collect hardware for the first time in his short career, and surely there is more to come. Playing with talents like Dont’a Hightower undoubtedly helps, but Collins’ versatility will prove vital in New England’s 2014/15 questfor back-to-back titles.