FOXBORO -- It wasn't a jaw-dropping defensive play. It was subtle. But it was the type of play that might not have been possible without an explosive first step and the quickness to close on a sliver of open space before it morphed into a gaping hole.
When Jamie Collins sliced through the Patriots offensive line from his linebacker spot on the second level, he swallowed up a running play that might otherwise have had a chance to be a big gainer. It didn't result in a big hit or a turnover -- things for which Collins has become well-known over the first two seasons of his career -- but it was quietly effective and led to a negligible pickup.
Later in the practice, he broke up a would-be goal-line touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Scott Chandler, which ticked off Brady and led to a spirited back-and-forth between the quarterback and Patriots defensive coaches.
Collins has made plays in all areas of the Patriots defense through four days of camp, cementing himself as one of the team's most important defenders after submitting a breakout season in 2014. He's swallowed up running backs, he's covered significant ground in the passing game, and he's helped give the team's linebackers a veteran voice alongside Jerod Mayo with Dont'a Hightower limited as he recovers from shoulder surgery
"He's a freak," Rob Gronnkowski said after Sunday's practice. "He's fast, he's long and he's strong. He plays the game of football how it should be. He knows how to hit, he knows how to cover. He's an overall great player so it's great going against guys like him. It makes you compete and gets you better."
While Collins is capable of doing the nitty-gritty work effectively, he admitted that what gets him going is getting his hands on the football. On Saturday, he was the reason that the entire Patriots offense was forced to run a lap because he stripped receiver Aaron Dobson, and almost no one on the offense reacted to try to recover the fumble or stop safety Devin McCourty from returning it.
"I like getting the ball out," Collins said. "Being a defensive player, getting that ball out and going to sit back on that bench, that's the best feeling."
While his offensive teammates might not have been too happy with Collins as they did their extra running earlier this weekend, but they'll be more than with OK with it if the 25-year-old can make good on that ball-hawking mentality come September.