Pro Game Slows Down For Rookie Collins

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A reporter asked Nick Collins if Sunday's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was his best game.

A man of few words, Collins responded with a smile.

"You could say that," he said.

The rookie free safety collected four tackles and two passes defended, but he made his presence known on back-to-back plays against Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson in the middle of the second quarter. He decleated Johnson to force an incompletion on 2nd-and-12. On 3rd-and-12 he read Johnson's route and broke on the ball to deflect the pass.

"Nick Collins really had a heck of a ballgame," Head Coach Mike Sherman said.

On the first play, he perfectly timed his pass breakup, launching himself at Johnson as Carson Palmer's pass arrived.

"I made a great hit," he said.

On third down he read Palmer's eyes and jumped Johnson's curl route. He should have had an interception, but the ball went through his arms. Regardless he relied on his knowledge of the Bengals offense to break quickly on the ball.

"We get that play at practice a lot," he said. "I was just waiting for it to happen."

Collins' recognition of the play shows how the pro game has started to click for the second-round draft pick. He impressed the coaching staff with his ability to learn the plays during training camp, but the Packers' scheme and the opponent's offense now come to him more naturally.

Fellow rookie safety Marviel Underwood can relate to the learning curve.

"We all know the plays, but in a game it's happening fast," Underwood said. "You don't want to make mistakes. There are a lot of things going through your mind so you're not really comfortable like you were in college or in high school."

Although Collins led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in interceptions in 2003 and 2004, some predicted it would take him longer to adjust to the pro game because he played at Division I-AA Bethune-Cookman.

He, however, has proved to be a quick study, collecting 40 tackles on the year.

But Collins has become more comfortable with the game's intricacies as of late. Coaches and players have helped with their tutelage and by preaching patience. Collins also has benefited from repetitions during practices and games and film study. Now he can cut loose and rely on his athletic ability instead of preoccupying himself with defensive reads.

"When I get into the game, I'm like, 'I know this,'" he said. "Now I'm just out there playing."

Collins also has toughness, playing on Sunday despite a thigh contusion which left him questionable entering the game. He said he remained sore afterwards, but the pain did not prevent him from his ballhawking ways.

"He made it look like he was 100 percent," said Underwood, a fourth-round draft pick.

Collins' comfort level with the defensive scheme is approaching that percentage. As it does, his performance should continue to improve.

"Every week I get better and better," he said.

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