New England Patriots fans have longed for an intimidating safety since Rodney Harrison hung it up after the 2008 season, but since Kam Chancellor flexed his bone-crushing ways in the Seahawks’ dominating win in Super Bowl XLVIII, it seems those talks have intensified all offseason.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald recently reported that the Patriots may throw second-year cornerback Logan Ryan into the safety mix to compete for the starting gig next to All-Pro safety Devin McCourty. Fans seem irritated by this idea because while Ryan appears to have the skill set to be a fine safety, he’s not a clone of Chancellor–which seems like the only thing that would make Patriots fans happy.
People are missing the point.
An “enforcer” doesn’t have to be a safety. It just has to be someone who can intimidate receivers, particularly over the middle. It’s someone who makes guys think twice or causes them to lose focus before a catch in fear of getting their bell rung.
They should be big, physical, and able to lay out a mean hit.
An “enforcer” sets the tone.
Linebacker Jamie Collins can do all that.
With top linebacker Jerod Mayo landing on IR early in the season, as well as Brandon Spikes later on, Collins was called upon to be play a substantial role in his rookie season. Throughout the season the former second-rounder progressively improved and began to really turn it on towards the end, particularly in the playoffs.
In fact, he ended his rookie campaign as the highest rated 4-3 outside linebacker among all postseason teams, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), putting up impressive outings against the Colts (6 tackles, 2 tackle for losses, sack, INT) and Broncos (7 tackles, 1 pass breakup).
The 6-foot 3 250-pound Collins has flashed ability to pressure the quarterback, but the most intriguing part of his game is his ability to cover, where his length (33 ¾ inch arm length) and speed (4.6 40-yard dash) are on full display. A former safety at Southern Miss, Collins finished the 2013 playoffs with a remarkable 28.7 opposing quarterback rating (per ProFootballFocus ).
Given his potential in coverage, the Patriots are likely to pair him with Mayo in sub-packages (which is really the base defense in today’s NFL) or perhaps even as the lone LB in dime packages going forward. Collins will have more opportunity in space in the middle of the field near the line of scrimmage, picking up slot receivers and tight ends–not unlike a traditional strong safety.
I’m not telling you Collins should switch to safety. I’m telling you he can be an intimidating presence in space. I’m telling you he can be an “enforcer” in the passing game.
While we’ve yet to see Collins start for an entire season, from what we have seen, his energy and aggressive style of play is very evident, and it’s something that the young linebacker embraces (per Michael Whitmer, the Boston Globe):
“I like the physicality of it, delivering hits. I’m not a finesse guy”
With a bigger role in 2014, Collins should have ample opportunity to do more of this.
And hopefully some of this, too.
The point is Collins has everything you want in an enforcer. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s passionate. He’s athletic. And yes, he can lay the wood.
So, to all the Patriots fans out there who are upset the Patriots didn’t draft a big nasty safety or didn’t bring one in free agency, don’t be discouraged by the “LB” next to his name on the roster, Collins is your guy.