FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins was explosive, but he was quiet. His athleticism made you shake your head. So too did the fact that we didn't know more about him.
In his first run with the Patriots, from 2013 midway through the 2016 season, Collins showed time and again that he was one of the most gifted athletes on the field. He came into the league as a former safety and defensive end in college, someone who broke the record for the broad jump at the combine six years ago. He jumped over the line of scrimmage to block kicks as a pro. He chased down quarterbacks, blitzing from the A-gap. He ran with tight ends and backs in coverage at 250 pounds.
Staggering as his ability was, and despite playing a critical role in a defense that won the Super Bowl in 2014, there was little Collins was willing to share with reporters. He was reluctant to meet with the group, and when he did he spoke low and said little.
Now that he's back, after a two-and-a-half season run with the Browns, his approach with reporters is staggeringly different. Something he admitted Thursday when he asked what's changed since he was here last.
“I’m talking to you more,” he joked. "This is, like, my fifth, sixth [availability period] I’ve done. I don’t think I did that many when I was here so this is definitely different right here. I’m trying to change. I’m doing a little bit better with that. Just overall, just enjoying it as a man."
Collins added that his growing family has changed him. A father now, his perspective and motivations have changed. It's been important to him to discover "that 'Why?' "
On the field, things are different too. Matt Patricia is out. So is Brian Flores. Jerod Mayo -- Collins' former teammate -- is the inside linebackers coach. The scheme appears to be changing as well.
What does that mean for Collins, who played in the middle of the field for Patricia -- someone who preferred 4-3 looks?
It could mean he serves as a bit of a queen-on-the-chess-board type. He can play off the ball in the middle of the field, walking down over the A-gaps from there as he did so many times during his previous stint. Or matching up with running backs in coverage as he did during Thursday's practice. He can also play on the outside as an outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 alignments, rushing the passer from there or dropping into coverage.
The Patriots could use an athletic presence at the second level, particularly in coverage. They had issues against pass-catching backs and tight ends at times last year. Now with Collins, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty in the fold, they have three players with movement skills who may serve as matchup weapons in Bill Belichick's man-to-man defense.
Best-case scenario? Collins ends up having a career turnaround a-la Chung, who left New England for a year, came back, was put in a different role and excelled. Perhaps if he's used in a little different way, focusing on coverage and pass-rush responsibilities, Collins can have a similar resurgence.
So far, Belichick likes what he's seen. He's had Collins taking reps with Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and other perceived starters.
"He's been great," Belichick said Thursday morning. "He had a great spring, he's had a good training camp. I think he's done everything we've asked him to do and he's done it well. I'm glad we have him. I think he'll help our team."
"From him, man, that’s music to my ears," Collins said later. "It’s an honor to get that type of response from him, and I really do appreciate it. It just makes me feel even better and makes me want to come to work even more."
It's been less than three years since Collins was shockingly traded away to a non-competitive franchise for a mid-round pick.
Oh, how times have changed.
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