FOXBORO - In the runup to the 2013 NFL Draft, two of the most amazing available athletes trained together frequently.
One, everybody knew. Barkevious Mingo, a defensive end out of LSU. The other, a linebacker from Southern Miss, was a virtual unknown off an 0-12 team. His name was Jamie Collins.
Collins, taken 52nd by the Patriots, checked in at 6-3, 250 pounds with 33.75-inch arms and 9.75-inch hands. He ran a 4.64 40, did 19 bench press reps, had a 41.5-inch vertical, an absurd 139-inch broad jump, a 7.10 three-cone time and an 11.55-second 6-yard shuttle.
Mingo, taken sixth by the Browns, was 6-4, 241. He ran a 4.58 40, had a 37-inch vertical, a 129-inch broad jump, a 6.84 three-cone. Both projected as stand-up pass rushers from the second-level.
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Through three NFL seasons, the fortunes of the two young men didn't intersect. Collins, playing for a perennial Super Bowl contender, was at a Pro Bowl-level by his second season and won a Super Bowl. His ability to cover ground in the running game and cover tight ends down the field was at times breathtaking. Mingo, meanwhile, did a slow fade in Cleveland. He played 61 percent of the Browns plays in his first two seasons and then 24 percent of the plays last year.
He's never forced a fumble. Collins has forced 10. Collins has five career picks and 10.5 career sacks,.
We are about to find out whether the production of these players so far is related to football nature or football nurture. Collins, you may have heard, was dealt to the Browns on Monday. Mingo came to the Patriots from Cleveland at the end of training camp.
Upon his arrival, NESN's Doug Kyed began comparing the two players' roles and styles. Nobody expected Mingo to take Collins' spot and is still not a certainty he will. But it seems that may have been the plan all along.
I asked Mingo on Wednesday whether he anticipated being the heir apparent to Collins.
"Honestly, I don't know yet. It's hard to say and those aren't decisions I get paid to make," he said. "I get paid to play and do the best I can when I'm playing. My job is to go out there and just play well and the rest will sort itself out."
Mingo did play more snaps Sunday against Buffalo than he had in any previous game. But that was just 10 snaps. He has played a lot on special teams. If Mingo is indeed the next-man-up in Collins' place, there's no better time to ratchet up his reps in practice and games than now.
Like many other Patriots, Mingo had high respect for Collins' ability.
"Jamie did stuff that hardly anybody else could do," Mingo explained. "The guy was really gifted. He enjoyed playing the game. I can't really explain it but he had a knack for making plays. he did. I'm just looking for that opportunity to do the same."
The Patriots could be looking to platoon their replacements for Collins with rookie Elandon Roberts, Mingo and also recently acquired Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy is a tweener between the Collins/Mingo body-type and the stocky Roberts. Have no idea if he'll be any good in New England, but he's here.
The most likely and direct 1-for-1 though? Mingo for Collins.
I asked Mingo if he expected to get his shot after the bye.
"I can't make those decisions but I certainly hope so," was his reply. . .