Collins' Preparation Paying Dividends


Free safety Nick Collins is playing what he feels is the best football of his career the first four weeks of the season, and his on-field success is a product of the work he is doing away from the field.

The fourth-year starter is tied for second in the league with three interceptions, one shy of his career total entering the season, and has posted a pick in each of the last three games. He also leads the defensive backs with 26 tackles and is second on the team with six passes defensed.

When asked about his fast start, Collins points to a decision he made heading into this season.

"This offseason I made it my business to just study film a lot and know what the opponent is trying to do to me," Collins said. "It's paying off for me right now. That's the biggest difference."

Collins said the film work is part of his workday routine at Lambeau Field but also continues on when he gets home. He said he typically watches each defensive play two or three times, and credits two veteran defenders, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, for teaching him the more detailed approach in his preparation each week.

Another aspect of that preparation are the notebooks that Collins has kept since his college days at Bethune-Cookman with information on opponents' schemes as well as individual players' tendencies that he will be matched up with.

"If you ever see his notebook, he takes impeccable notes," secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer said. "He writes everything down and he is absolutely very precise with that. In that regard you know he is spending a lot of time and working at it."

Collins is coming off of a 2007 campaign that saw him post a career-low 62 tackles, six passes defensed and no interceptions. He was sidelined with a knee injury for three games in November and also dealt with a nagging back issue.

"It was tough for me," Collins said. "I had a family situation also besides the injuries, but that's in the past and I'm looking to do bigger and better things. I'm just out there trying to help this team the best way I can."

Schottenheimer said while Collins has been a steady performer throughout his career, he is now becoming more of the playmaker the coaches thought he was capable of.

"We thought this time would come," Schottenheimer said. "He's just a tremendous athlete that is very, very competitive. I'm just happy for his success, because these are things that you knew were there.

"When you have that kind of physical talent and athletic ability, you want to try to put a guy in position to make plays, and he's getting to that point."

In addition to more big plays, another aspect of Collins' game that Schottenheimer has seen improve is his more vocal nature.

"He makes the checks as it relates to coverages," Schottenheimer said. "He gets us in the right adjustments and those types of things. He's to the point now where he anticipates things so much better than in the past.

"He looks at a general formation and then recognizes that 'if they do this, then I've got to do this. If they do that, then I've got to do this.' Just being ahead of the curve on those things and being able to anticipate, he does a tremendous job in that aspect."

That anticipation has been evident in his interceptions this season. At Detroit, Collins made a break on quarterback Jon Kitna's pass intended for wide receiver Calvin Johnson over the middle and took it 42 yards for a touchdown to help seal the win, his first interception since the '06 season finale at Chicago.

The following week against Dallas, Collins came over to pick off quarterback Tony Romo's pass to tight end Jason Witten in the end zone and returned the interception 61 yards to set up a Green Bay field goal.

His most impressive interception came last week at Tampa Bay, when Collins was playing deep middle and ran down quarterback Brian Griese's pass intended for wide receiver Antonio Bryant near the sideline.

{sportsad300}"Safeties don't make that play," Schottenheimer said. "That's what (Tampa Bay head coach) Jon Gruden alluded to when he talked about it."

What makes Collins' start this season even more impressive is the fact he has played the last two weeks with an injured back. He initially sustained the injury in the first quarter against Dallas when he broke up a trick pass from wide receiver Patrick Crayton to wide receiver Terrell Owens in the end zone and was pulled down awkwardly.

He was sidelined briefly in the second quarter, but returned to the field before re-injuring the back running down wide receiver Miles Austin on a long pass play.

Despite being limited for two of three practices leading into the Tampa Bay game, Collins returned to the starting lineup Sunday. He was forced to leave the game again when he aggravated his back late in the fourth quarter making a tackle of Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham, but said he is ready to go again this week.

"It's been tough, but the trainers are doing a nice job of keeping me loose so I can play," Collins said. "The credit goes to them. It's something I'm probably going to have to deal with for the whole season."

With an interception against the Falcons Sunday, Collins would not only tie his career high for a season but would also become the first Packer to post an interception in four consecutive games since defensive back John Symank accomplished the feat in 1961.

While admitting that it would be "amazing" to match that streak, Collins said he is more concerned with helping to stop another streak, the Packers' back-to-back losses.

"My main focus is to just go out there and play hard every day and help this team win the best way I can," Collins said. "I just want to put guys in the right position when I am out there on defense and make the right calls so they can be successful too."

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