Detroit Lions linebacker Jamie Collins issued a simple directive in regard to where he expects to line up on the field this season.
“Go check my stats,” he told reporters recently. “My stats is through the roof every season. It’s like, it is what it is. Inside, outside, it’s my job.”
Sure enough, through the roof. Maybe even into the higher wisps of the thinning atmosphere.
The New England Patriots picked Collins out of Southern Miss in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. The next year, he became a full-time starter and has been extremely productive since then as a versatile chess piece who can line up just about anywhere.
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Every year since 2014, Collins has had at least one sack, one forced fumble and one interception. He’s also had at least 81 tackles in five of the past seven seasons.
And the numbers aren’t waning as he embarks on the beginning of a three-year, $30-million contract with the Lions. At age 30 last year, Collins’ three interceptions, seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss were all career highs.
Collins primarily plays outside linebacker. But he can play on the ball as an edge rusher or off the ball as a traditional linebacker. He’s also good in coverage.
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“It is what it is, man,” Collins said. “If they put me inside, I play inside. If they put me outside, I play outside, ’cause that’s me anyway. I’m kind of like, when it comes to the ball, I’m kind of greedy so I like to switch it up every now and then and hunt for the ball. I like to rush the passer, but a lot of times I like to catch interceptions, too. I’ll do whatever.
“Whatever it is, if they want me to play safety, I’ll drop some weight and play safety. Like I said, it’s my job. Whatever they pay me to do, I’m going to do.”
That kind of dogged determination and willing flexibility is the stuff of coach Matt Patricia’s dreams.
“Certainly you love that attitude,” Patricia said in a conference call, “you love everything that Jamie brings to the field and off the field and his intelligence is really what makes him so flexible and so dangerous when you get out into that game. Obviously his talent and his ability is off the charts.”
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And if you want to know how and where Patricia intends to use Collins, don’t bother. Collins will officially be a linebacker, but his actual position will be quarterback tormentor, a wraith who roams around the defense and lives rent free inside the signal-caller’s head.
“I think Jamie Collins is definitely one of those guys,” Patricia said, “that when the quarterback looks over to the other side of the defense, they try to figure out, ‘OK, where is this guy and what is he doing?’ I think when you can keep that moving or make it a variable for the quarterback each and every snap, that just adds to what the quarterback has to think about before that ball is being snapped into play.
“When you can do things like that with players, and certainly Jamie is one of those guys, it helps. But we also know that he’s just getting here, we haven’t had a spring, we’re trying to put some new pieces together. Obviously with Cory (Undlin) coming in as the defensive coordinator and trying to make sure that he’s comfortable in the things that we’re doing also as he teaches it to the players, we just want to keep it at the right pace if that makes sense.”
That chemistry will come in time. But when the season starts and the Lions need Collins, they’ll know where to look. Anywhere on the field that helps the team.
“I’m here doing what’s best for the team,” he said. “I just want my teammates to know that I’ve got their back. Whenever they need me, I’m there. And hopefully I can say the same about everybody else.”