How Does Jamie Collins Fit into the Patriots Defense in 2013?
How much room is there for a linebacker like Jamie Collins in a linebacker corps that already features two first-rounders and a second-rounder?
It turns out, plenty.
It helps that Collins is incredibly versatile, with the ability to rush the passer as a defensive lineman, blitz as a linebacker, drop into coverage, stop the run and more.
Collin has been a jack of all trades since he began playing football, having started out as a quarterback in high school, leading his team to back-to-back state championship games. He switched to the defensive side of the ball when he went to Southern Mississippi, but he started out at safety. He gradually moved up the defensive front, to linebacker as a sophomore and then to the defensive line as a junior.
His transition from one position to another outlines his wide-ranging abilities. We saw Collins do a mix of everything in his first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, it's clear from his limited action that the Patriots have designs on him being a jack of all trades for their defense. In the first drive, he had nine plays: three as a pass-rusher, three in run defense and three in coverage.
He stayed fairly balanced and flashed his versatility throughout the night, doing a mix of all three of those things at different points, from different positions and with different results.
On Jamie Collins' first play of the preseason, he made a tackle of Eagles running back Bryce Brown and stopped him for a one-yard gain.
He lined up in a two-point stance on the weak side, an alignment which would become one of the staples of his night, and was responsible for edge containment on the play.
He waited patiently for Brown to make his move, staying in his lane and squaring up for the tackle.
The Patriots' front seven as a whole did a nice job of plugging the lanes, forcing Brown outside and straight into Collins' tackle.
It's a pretty routine play on the surface, but Collins' technique is perfect. Without it, he might have given up the edge, allowing Brown to break loose into the secondary.
Run defense was his primary responsibility against the Eagles but far from his only one.
Collins rushed the passer a bit, as well, and did so in multiple spots.
Most often, Collins would line up in a two-point stance on the right side, shift tight to the line before the snap and rush from the edge.
It was interesting to see him rush the passer, as it was not something he did extensively in practice leading up to the game.
We had seen him blitz a couple of times, but he was mostly working with the linebackers while the defensive line participated in one-on-one pass-rush drills.
He got his chance to blitz the B-gap against the Eagles, charging hard at quarterback Nick Foles right up the middle.
Collins applied the pressure and forced Foles to scramble, and the quarterback would eventually break past the line of scrimmage for a 10-yard gain.
Broadcast analyst and former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham gave his thoughts on what Jamie Collins could have done differently, and what he could learn from this play:
Well, one of the points here that a young player has to get is he has to bring himself under control. Your eyes get really big, the play is open for you, but you need to break yourself down, control that breathing and make the tackle.
The Patriots could really use his pass-rushing abilities, with their defense ranking a mediocre 17th in the NFL in sacks in 2012 and 21st in sack percentage, but he can't just be a dog chasing cars out there.
Another way they could use his youth and athleticism is in coverage against tight ends over the middle of the field. The Patriots ranked 29th in the NFL in coverage of tight ends last year, according to Football Outsiders, and Collins got his chances in that regard in his first game.
He lined up in man coverage against Eagles tight end Clay Harbor on 3rd-and-20 (circled in blue).
Harbor ran a 10-yard post down the seam, and Collins was with him every step of the way.
In fact, he was right in position to make a play on the ball, but he mistimed his jump, and Harbor was able to make the catch.
That's another play that, with timing and with less jitters, Collins can make.
He is already showing the potential to improve the Patriots defense in major areas of need.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes was missing from practice on Tuesday, and Collins earned some repetitions with the first-team defense in Spikes' absence. He was also spotted as Spikes' replacement in nickel packages.
It seems, for now, Collins' best fit may simply be to play all over the defense as a "chess piece," doing whatever the game plan may ask of him on any given day.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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