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Collins Hoping for Special Impact
Collins Hoping for Special Impact
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
To many NFL teams preparing their draft boards, Jerome Collins was a ghost. Nobody knew much about him and his chances of making an impression by way of video tape were slim.
It wasn’t that Collins had mixed performances on the field or attitude questions or any of the intangible things that make young players tricky to assess. It was hard to watch tape of Collins, because, well, there wasn’t much tape to evaluate.
After all, Collins spent the majority of his career at Notre Dame playing outside linebacker after being recruited as a wide receiver from Wheaton-Warrenville (IL) South High. For the first three seasons of his college career, Collins played defense and special teams with nary an opportunity to get back on offense.
His most productive defensive season came in 2003, when he made nine tackles. Even though he was struggling, Collins liked the chance to play defense, but knew that he wanted to do more than be a back-up on defense.
“I grew very comfortable with it (defense),” Collins said. “I think defense helped me be a lot more physical player. Playing defense, I enjoyed it, but I would much rather play offense. I just loved the creativity of offense much more than defense.”
If creative offense is Collins’ cup then his next destination should bode well for his future. The Rams selected Collins in the fifth round (No. 144 overall) after trading their fifth-round choice (No. 155) and seventh-round selection (No. 231) for the chance to get Collins.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but drafting a tight end who did not start a collegiate game at the position and caught just six passes for 67 yards. So, there had to be a catch of some sort, right? Why move up in the draft to get a guy with such limited experience?
Well, it wasn’t Collins’ ability on offense that made him most appealing, according to tight end coach Frank Falks.
“I put a tape together,” Falks said. “I went through every game of the season, including every special teams play to find enough to sell him. On punt coverage, at 270 pounds, he will be the first one down the field every time and make an open field tackle. That was the real intriguing thing about him.”
For a team such as St. Louis, any help on special teams is more than welcome. The Rams ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every special teams category of importance last year and made it a priority to try to correct those problems this season.
If Collins is looking for a way to make the active roster, this will likely be where his chance comes. With so little experience at tight end, he isn’t likely to pass incumbent Brandon Manumaleuna or returning veteran Roland Williams on the depth chart, but he might be able to squeeze his way onto special teams based on how he performs in camp.
With the Irish, Collins was nothing short of a special teams dynamo. Collins had a hand in two blocked punts and made four tackles on special teams as a senior. Perhaps more important, though, is Collins aforementioned ability to get upfield quickly.
At 6-feet-4, 267 pounds, Collins combines size with excellent speed for a man his size. Collins starred in track in high school, running the second leg of the 1999 state championship 4x100 relay team. That combination makes Collins a potentially dangerous wedge-buster.
“Since I played behind a pretty good guy on defense at linebacker, I spent most of my time playing special teams,” Collins said. “I grew very accustomed to playing kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. It is something everybody needs to do. You need to have good guys on those teams so that you can make plays.
“I am all about doing special teams.”
That approach should come in handy for what could be another heated position battle heading into training camp. With Manumaleuna and Williams seemingly entrenched ahead of him, Collins will compete with Erik Jensen for the final roster spot at the position.
Jensen, who the team drafted a year ago out of Iowa, tore his ACL in the preseason and is returning from the injury. He is a more polished tight end than Collins, but probably doesn’t have the same athleticism and special teams ability that Collins has.
That doesn’t necessarily mean anything will be given to Collins. Though special teams is his strength, it doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the roster and it doesn’t mean he will be as effective on the units in the NFL as he was at Notre Dame.
That means Collins will have to have a sharp learning curve to get up to speed at tight end.
“In terms of potential and upside, this young man has it,” Falks said. “If he had been playing tight end more than he had been, I think he would have been a very high choice. When you start talking technique a lot of it he didn’t understand because he had never done it. He has been a tight end for six months; with that part of it there is some work to be done there.”
In terms of the Rams’ offense, Collins seemed to be learning at a solid pace during the two mini-camps and OTAs. The St. Louis offense requires its tight ends to be adept as blockers and capable pass catchers with the additional requirement of having the versatility to line up as a fullback and be a lead blocker.
Coach Mike Martz said versatility is probably the most important trait he looks for in a tight end.
“So many times tight ends are different than what we look at,” Martz said. “They are receivers first and blockers second and that is not how we see things.”
No, to be effective in Martz’s offense, a tight end must be able to do everything well. Manumaleuna hasn’t lived up to those expectations, but he remains the team’s best option at the position. With Collins’ athleticism and willingness to learn, he could have a chance to eventually play more than just special teams.
“I basically (need to work on) everything right now,” Collins said. “My experience at the position is lacking because I only played it in college for a year. There is no one point in my game that doesn’t need some work.”
Training camp will be the first major opportunity for Collins to get that work and, depending on how he fares, that work could extend much further.
“I just believe he is going to have a chance to absorb what we do and hopefully have a chance to contribute as a rookie,” Martz said.
To Collins, it doesn’t matter where that contribution is made, so long as there is video evidence of it when it happens.
Welcome to the St. Louis Rams!
Re: Collins Hoping for Special Impact
Wow, a special teams dynamo? on the Rams?
Sort of like military intelligence, but I'm all in favor of positive change.