RICHMOND, Va. — When Landon Collins declared back in late May that he'd be ready for Week 1 against the Chargers, it was easy to dismiss the claim as athletic bravado. After all, he made that statement in a presser during the franchise's OTAs, where he never donned a helmet and didn't take a single rep, even in semi-live action.
On Wednesday, however, Collins made a major statement: Nine months after tearing his Achilles against the Cowboys, he returned to the grass and participated just as much as any other defensive back. In doing so, what initially came across as bluster suddenly began to feel prescient.
"He worked very well, very hard," Ron Rivera said about Collins' handling of the Achilles injury. "He did the things that he needed to, and it's good to see him back out on the football field. He came in in great shape, so he's ready to roll and we're excited about the competition we'll have."
Since signing a six-year contract in 2019, Collins has posted one underwhelming season plus one underwhelming-and-shortened season in Burgundy and Gold. That has caused some to sour on him, but despite his middling performance, his speedy recovery from what can be a catastrophic injury should be praised. He clearly believed and committed throughout his rehab, and being able to suit up for the first practice of training camp is a serious feat.
There's never much time to celebrate in the NFL, though, which is why Collins is already facing another question: How much can he actually help in 2021?
That'll obviously be worth tracking beginning on Thursday, now that he's crossed off the "Get into the huddle again" box on personal his to-do list.
When Collins was sidelined in the Dallas contest, it cleared a path for Kam Curl to thrive — which is exactly what Curl did. In addition to Curl, Washington has Bobby McCain, Jeremy Reaves, Darrick Forrest and Deshazor Everett to utilize. In other words, Collins isn't just going to coast back into his old gig.
"We have a lot of options, a lot of good pieces," Rivera noted.
So, for the rest of the way here as well as when the club returns to their facility in Ashburn, Va., there will be a focus on Collins' health — will he have any setbacks? Will his athleticism be permanently affected by his Achilles tear? — and on if he's filling holes, covering capably and forcing turnovers like his other secondary peers.
And as Rivera explained, he'll also be attuned to how Collins and Co. are influencing the defense in its entirety as the roster competition progresses.
"Consistency of play will be one of [his points of emphasis] and not just their play, but how the rest of the guys around them play," the coach said. "One of the things that's really important that these guys got to be able to do is communicate. They're kind of like air traffic controllers."
While Collins would have to become an otherworldly defender to reverse the narrative about him being overpaid, there is still time for him to emerge as a key portion of Washington's unit. As a former All-Pro (albeit one who earned that nod in 2016), he should be able to contribute in a meaningful way this year.
Wednesday's accomplishment of practicing without limitations was a significant step toward that goal for Collins — yet he can't let it be his last. Hopefully, Thursday brings another one.