Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins registered a first-quarter sack in Thursday’s preseason opener in Detroit.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins burst off the right edge and sacked Detroit Lions quarterback Tom Savage in the first quarter of the preseason opener Thursday night, it highlighted one of the top themes of training camp.
Collins has been a most disruptive defender, and his return to the team that traded him in 2016 has potential for explosive on-field fireworks.
“I love having him back. That man’s a great ballplayer,” veteran safety Patrick Chung said. “He can do a lot for us.”
Collins could be Chung 2.0 — an example of a player who fell out of favor in his first stint with the team but returns with a fresh slate and becomes a key cog.
Consider that when The Patriots traded Collins to the Cleveland Browns in the middle of the 2016 season, all they received was a late third-round draft choice. The deal shocked many players and seemed to be coach Bill Belichick taking an addition-by-subtraction outlook with Collins, who was in the final year of his rookie contract and eyeing a big payday.
Collins ultimately landed a four-year, $50 million deal from Cleveland, and now he’s back in New England on a modest one-year, $2 million deal.
“It’s good to have Jamie back. Sometimes when guys leave here, they gain a little bit of perspective. Life happens. A lot of good things have happened in Jamie’s personal life off the field,” said team captain Matthew Slater, The Patriots’ third-longest-tenured player.
Collins acknowledged that he’s trying to do some things differently in his return to New England, pointing out he has already conducted more media interviews this year than he did in his entire first go-around.
He’s also been active on social media, such as recently posting a picture of himself along with fellow linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and referring to them all as the “Three Musketeers.”
“I’m trying to change — in general and as a man,” the normally tight-lipped Collins said.
He also highlighted a message that his former Browns teammate, linebacker Christian Kirksey, had stressed on HBO’s popular “Hard Knocks” program last year.
“It’s always a part of it — playing for your family, especially when you have kids. You always have to find that ‘Why?’ Sometimes when it’s just you, it’s hard for you [to find it],” said Collins, who turns 30 in October. “As long as you have someone to play for, you’re good. And I do.”
Teammates have taken notice. Slater had previously connected with Collins through their shared connection to Mississippi; Collins grew up in McCall Creek and attended Southern Mississippi, while Slater’s father — Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater — grew up in Jackson.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Jamie, always enjoyed his company, he’s always been a good teammate,” Slater said. “He’s been a lot of fun to have in the locker room. Obviously, you can’t miss his presence on the field. I think he’s grateful for the opportunity he has here, and we’re grateful to have him. It’s been good so far.”
Wearing his old college jersey, No. 8, Collins’ speed and athleticism have shown up in almost every practice, which carried into Thursday’s 31-3 victory against the Lions in the preseason opener. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Collins easily beat backup offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby with a speed rush around the edge for a first-quarter sack, one of nine for The Patriots as a team.
“He brings another element of trying to get after the ball,” said Hightower, who liked the nickname “Smash Brothers” for his pairing with Collins from 2013 to 2016. “He’s always been a ball hawk, so whether he’s clutching at the ball or having guys thinking about getting back and looking for him, reading the quarterback and all that — that stuff helps.”
Belichick said Collins had a “great spring” after signing May 16, and that he believes “he’ll help our team.”
“From him, that’s music to my ears,” Collins said. “It’s an honor to hear that type of response from him. I really do appreciate it. It makes me feel even better, and makes me want to come to work even more.”
Indeed, things are much different from the time Collins’ first stint with New England ended in 2016. The versatility of The Patriots’ linebackers, Collins included, opens up a myriad of possibilities for the ever-evolving unit.
“Guys like that don’t grow on trees,” Slater said. “If you can have a guy like that, you’re definitely excited about that.”