Collins Ready For Next Gear
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CHAPEL HILL – The path Chris Collins has navigated to this point in his college football career has been anything but traditional.
As an undersized true freshman in 2018, Collins was unleashed in North Carolina’s second game, a 41-19 drubbing at East Carolina. He played 29 snaps but didn’t get on the field on defense again for another six weeks when he played 10 snaps in an overtime loss at Syracuse.
In all, Collins played 150 snaps in six games as a true freshman even though he really was not quite ready for the rigors of taking on offensive tackles and the demands of playing defensive end at the Power 5 level. But then Mack Brown replaced Larry Fedora and the pause button was hit on Collins’ career.
He played on special teams over the first four games, but then talked with defensive coordinator Jay Bateman and then-special teams coordinator Scott Boone leading to him deciding to redshirt for the rest of the season. No more games, just scout team work and focusing on himself.
The mantra was to get bigger, faster, stronger, and to just keep progressing. The NCAA had already passed a rule allowing players four games while maintaining their redshirt. It was not easy at first for Collins, but he adjusted.
“I just had to get past the first instance (because) I played my freshman year (and) that was the first year I didn’t play football,” he said. “Once I got that out of my mind, I really took the scout team serious, and every day I went against our offense, and we’ve got one of the best offenses in the nation. So, I took practice seriously, and when I started doing that, it really elevated my game.”
It paid off. He was bigger and stronger for sure last fall but did not lose a step with respect to his speed or quickness off the ball. He still had to learn the hybrid position that combines responsibilities of an outside linebacker and defensive end.
Collins lined up with a hand on the ground playing for Fedora in John Papuchis’ defense, but he did not all that often a year ago. Same player, but a different body, different mind, and a different job. In fact, the role of the hybrid fluctuates, and even Collins’ athletic ability allowed Bateman to tinker with how the Richmond, VA, native was used.
“I feel like I'm very versatile,” Collins said. “Last year, I started some games at SAM, which is kind of like our nickel position, just to stop the run. I also played some 4i, some four technique, I played some rush. So, wherever coach (Jay) Bateman needs me, I feel I can play.
“Just being a guy that knows the defense, I feel like I know the defense very well going into my third year on the defense. So, anywhere he needs me, I can play. Just being that versatile guy in this defense is very important.”
In all, Collins played 239 snaps a year ago registering 13 tackles, three of which were sacks. How much he plays this coming fall will depend, as the hybrid group has gained some considerable talent over the last couple of years.
Plus, with Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper taking advantage of the NCAA’s super senior rule allowing seniors from last season to return for one more year, Bateman and position coach Jovan Dewitt have plenty of options to use players situationally as well as keep them fresh.
How does the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Collins view the competition in that room moving forward?
“We just all come in and compete,” he said. “I love our position group because, like you said, there's a bunch of guys that can play, a bunch of guys that can run and tackle, cover, anything that coach Bateman needs.
“When you’ve got a bunch of guys like that in one room, it's competition every day. Whether we're in meetings, we’re in the weight room or on the field, the outside linebackers as a group, we love to compete. Honestly, I'm thankful for those guys for making me better.”
It goes both ways. A deeper, more talented, and more experienced room means for a more capable group, one in which Chris Collins will factor significantly.