It was unknown what to expect from Landon Collins entering training camp.
When the Washington Football Team safety took the field with the first-team defense last Wednesday in Richmond, it marked the first time Collins had been fully healthy since last October. Collins participated in a limited capacity during OTAs and minicamp as he continued to recover from the ruptured Achilles he suffered, but was fully cleared for football activities prior to camp beginning.
Over the past week and a half, Collins didn't just return from a devastating injury far earlier than expected. He's impressed. And his teammates are taking notice, too.
"It feels good. I was seeing him all summer, just him grinding, the work he was putting in there, he was feeling healthy," cornerback Kendall Fuller told reporters.
"Just that energy that he has, that excitement that he has to be back out there and then just what he brings to the field – that mentality. He's not scared to go make a play. I know he was excited about being in full pads, so we are glad to have him back.”
Once Collins went down last year, then-rookie Kamren Curl was thrust into the starting safety role. In the 11 games Curl started, Curl quickly became a fan favorite. His tackling, versatility, and knack for finding the football quickly won over his teammates, coaches and fans.
Curl's excellent play led to many questions about what Collins' role would be when he returned. Would Collins play more of a box safety now? Would Curl slide over to the primary free safety role?
Washington is still working through a bunch of safety packages, as the position group is significantly deeper than it has been in years past. Collins has run primarily with the starting unit, while Curl and free-agent acquisition Bobby McCain have rotated at different spots. There are also multiple formations where all three could be on the field at the same time, especially considering the versatility of Curl and McCain.
One thing is for sure though: Curl is thrilled to have Collins back.
“It means a lot every time Landon’s on the field, he makes the team better," Curl said. "Just being able to play with him and the knowledge he can give you because he’s going to know what everybody on the field is doing when he gets there. So, him being able to help you out there, just feeding off him on how he plays, he’s going to make everybody better.”
Collins isn't just impressing his old teammates, though. The 27-year-old has quickly made an impact on his new defensive back mates as well.
Cornerback William Jackson III, who signed with the club this offseason, was asked about what he's noticed from Collins since the safety returned and quickly pointed to his leadership skills.
"He's a natural leader. He's a smart guy," Jackson said. "He'll communicate a lot during plays because he has lined up on the outside. He's just a smart player, and I'm just soaking up everything that he knew about the defense. He’s getting me on the same page as far as us all doing it as one and having fun."
For Fuller, it's Collins' quick instincts that have stood out to him since he returned to the field this past week.
"He just sees things and he just shoots. You see him making plays all over the field," Fuller said. "You see them making TFLs, sacks, picks, PBUs [pass breakups]. He's a guy where he just, he sees, he reacts, he goes, he shoots a shot and make[s] plays.”
While Collins has impressed his teammates with his play on the field, head coach Ron Rivera has been inspired by the way the safety has picked up the defensive system and concepts.
"He has come in with a different resolve. More of an understanding of the concepts we use as far as our defense is concerned," Rivera said. "Last year, going through what we had to go through and trying to learn on the run, I think there was some hesitation in terms of picking it up. You did see some of the really good moments last year until he got hurt. I think he is pretty much just picking up where he left off. He has a better understanding of how we are doing things and the things that we do."
What also impressed Rivera was that when Collins was on the sidelines during OTAs and minicamp, he would mimic the defense and talk with defensive backs coach Chris Harris to understand why players would do certain things.
That studying Collins did back in the spring has really helped him during camp as he's returned to the field.
"I think that really helped him," Rivera said. "I think he is really taking the steps that we hoped he will. He is a tremendous talent."
When asked what it felt like to back with his teammates practicing, Collins called it "incredible" and that he feels "way better than before." After all, he did recover from a ruptured Achilles -- one of the toughest injuries to return from in all of sports -- a few months earlier than expected.
Despite all the praise he's received, Collins knows he's entering a career-defining year. This season is the third of the six-year, $84 million deal he signed with Washington in 2019 and the first two years have not gone the way either side would have liked. If he has a disappointing year, moving on from him in the offseason is not out of the question.
"I think every year I come out here and show out. I want to prove that I am the best safety always on the field and around the league," Collins said. "I have done it before and I can do it again. That is my job. That is what they brought me here for. They didn’t give me that paycheck just to come in here and lollygag. I put that on my shoulders all the time. ... Pressure breaks pipes, but I am a strong pipe I can promise you that."