Collins Begins Catching Up

Safety Nick Collins doesn't feel as behind in the transition to the Packers' new 3-4 defense as some have speculated he might be.

Time will tell in the end, but Monday in his first day of on-field work since the start of the offseason program, Collins said he's comfortable with where he is and doesn't expect it to take long to be fully up to speed.

"I'm pretty up to date," Collins said. "I was in my playbook. I know the terminology. It's just more getting the reps down, the same speed, and doing the right things on the field."

Collins was back to work Monday, the first day of the Packers' three-day mandatory mini-camp to conclude the offseason program. But he wasn't interested in talking about why he stayed away throughout most of the voluntary portion of the offseason workouts and OTAs.

His agent has been quoted in several media reports saying that Collins, who is heading into the final year of his five-year contract signed as a rookie in 2005, wants a new deal. So Collins' absence since mid-March, with the exception of one week during offseason conditioning workouts and one OTA practice last week when he watched the opening jog-through portion with safeties coach Darren Perry, was presumably to send a message about his contract. He also dealt with the birth of a child and the death of his father earlier this spring.

But in his first public comments in several weeks, Collins declined to answer any questions about his contract or personal life.

"I'm all about football right now," Collins said. "That's what I'm here to do is play football and let things work out themselves."

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he spoke twice with Collins over the weekend and felt his fifth-year safety was ready to focus on football. He also noted that Collins reported in good physical shape and that his grasp of the 3-4 terminology indicated he wasn't ignoring his football responsibilities completely while away.

"He has a good understanding of the transition from the verbiage change, so he has been spending time in his book," McCarthy said. "You can see that, but it's definitely a challenge because all of those reps he missed, he has to make that up. We're confident he'll get that done."

Collins took all the reps with the first-team defense during the jog-through and team periods during Monday morning's practice. The afternoon practice was replaced by a team-building event off-site, and three mandatory workouts remain (two on Tuesday, one on Wednesday) before the players are off for the five weeks prior to training camp.

With Collins absent and Atari Bigby still recovering from an ankle injury, the No. 1 safeties during OTAs had been newcomer Anthony Smith and third-year pro Aaron Rouse. Smith was out with a groin injury Monday, so Rouse was taking the reps with the first team alongside Collins.

"It's good to have all our team back," Rouse said. "Anytime you get our team back together as a whole, it's great. Everybody needs to be on the same level, be at the same pace. Anytime that one guy is missing, we like to have him in here to get our team unity back, and it feels good to have all our guys back here."

Safeties have key communication responsibilities in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' versatile version of the 3-4, which is why it's been speculated that Collins' absence could greatly affect his transition to the new scheme. The preseason games in August probably will be the first gauge of that, but on Monday Collins sounded like a player who's already excited to start executing this new defense for real.

"It will allow me to make more plays, (play) more freely," he said. "Once we get the hang of things and everybody's on the same page and everybody has a steady flow with things, we can go out and be a dominant defense this year. My job is to go out and do what I did last year."

{sportsad300}All Collins did last year was lead the team with eight interceptions, returning a franchise-record-tying three for touchdowns, and make his first Pro Bowl.

That makes for a tough standard to live up to, especially in a new defense, but Collins remains as confident in his playmaking skills as the coaching staff is in his ability to make up for lost time between now and Week 1 of the regular season.

Playing for his third position coach in five seasons this year, Collins said he already feels comfortable with Perry. On the practice field, Collins can often be seen talking with Perry when he's not taking a snap himself.

That certainly helps, but so does simply getting back on the field in what has turned into, for several reasons, an atypical offseason for Collins.

"I feel great about things," he said. "I'm just eager to get out here with the guys, have fun, do work together, and get the pieces together and move forward."

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