FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots were not expecting linebacker Jamie Collins to make an immediate impact as a rookie. With one year under his belt, though, the expectations may grow in his second year.
Players are expected to make a jump from their rookie year to their sophomore season; an increased understanding of the playbook, a year's worth of experience playing at the NFL level, and heightened confidence are all factors as last year's rookies become this year's stars.
Collins believes his knowledge has helped him begin to make that transition.
"I know a lot more," he said after organized team activities on Thursday. "[I'm] playing faster. Last year had to learn everything. Now I know most of it. I'm playing a little faster."
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker was considered a physical freak coming out of Southern Mississippi in 2013. He finished the 2013 Scouting Combine among the top-five linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.64 seconds), vertical jump (41.5 inches), broad jump (139 inches), three-cone drill (7.1 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.55 seconds).
Collins was effective in multiple roles last season. He rushed the passer 52 times and registered eight quarterback hurries, three hits and a sack, generating pressure on one in every four pass-rush attempts. He also notched an interception and five passes defensed while in coverage.
His expanded knowledge of the defense could help him put those skills to better use. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has long advocated for the transition from the first to second year as the biggest transition in a player's career.
"That's where a lot of players, I'd say almost all players make a big jump — whether that is reflective in their status on the field, that's another question," Belichick said. "But just from a development as a football player, that second year is a big year. It's a great opportunity for them to take that first-year knowledge that they don't have as a rookie and be able to apply it in their job now."
Collins was thrust into a bigger role last year when Jerod Mayo (Week 6; pectoral) and Brandon Spikes (Week 17; knee) were placed on injured reserve. He flourished at the end of the season, playing 308 of the team's 429 snaps (71.8 percent) in the final six games of the season (four regular season, two playoffs).
He has a better understanding of the defense, but he isn't taking anything for granted. there is still much to learn about the Patriots defense that Collins has yet to study.
"You always going to have to be in the playbook," he said. "You're not ever gonna know everything. Just working to get better every day."
Collins' teammates agree that he has the potential to make big strides in his second year, and were quick to point out the tough spot he was put in as a result of the injuries at linebacker.
"It was a little bit harder losing Mayo and all those guys," said third-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower. "Before that it was a lot more fluid. And 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. Him coming in and learning the way he did his first year, you couldn't tell that he wasn't a three- or a four-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."
As a rookie, players have to go through a wringer of events before even entering the NFL; then they must learn the playbook, their teammates, and nuances of complex NFL schemes that they may have never seen in college.
Collins' maturity has helped him make that transition.
"There's always a huge difference in that second year in just having that experience and that confidence," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “It's not easy as a rookie. You're going through a long year there with the [scouting] combine and get drafted, then come in and learn the playbook. You don't get much time off. That second year, you kind of have been there, done that, and now it’s just go out there and play ball."
Collins has flashed the physical ability to be an impact linebacker, and as he gains more knowledge of his responsibilities and of offensive tendencies, he will only continue to improve on his way to becoming a key contributor in the Patriots' defense.