Jamie Collins was one of a handful of players not in attendance for the Detroit Lions’ voluntary OTA practices this week, but that didn’t temper defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s excitement to work with the veteran linebacker.
“Man I’m excited about that player,” Glenn said ahead of Thursday’s practice. “I go back and watch him when he was in New England and the different spots that he can play in. When you sit there and talk to Jamie, you realize how intelligent he is as a football player. So I have a number of ideas I want to do with him — put him as a stack backer, put him on the edge, maybe put him at the at zero technique and let him beat some of these centers that are slow-footed. Again, it goes back to the philosophy; versatility, versatility. So now, I can dictate, and that’s my plan.”
Selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the ultra-athletic Collins has always been a versatile chess piece, dating back to his time at Southern Miss. His ability to play all over was epitomized during his 2019 season with the Patriots, when he lined up on line of scrimmage more than 300 snaps, as an off ball linebacker more than 400 snaps and split out in more of a slot corner alignment a handful of times each week.
He ended up in Detroit as a free agent, netting a three-year, $30 million deal, as much for his knowledge of former coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme as the linebacker’s skill set. But that versatility wasn’t put to use the same way as the Patriots did a year earlier, with the Lions lining Collins up as an off-ball linebacker nearly 90% of his defensive reps.
Glenn sounds like he wants to bring back the 2019 version of the player. Still, it might be a short-lived union. Collins restructured his contract with the Lions this offseason, easing the team’s cap responsibilities this season, while making it difficult to justify retaining him beyond this season. In 2022, he’s scheduled to have a $13.3 million cap hit, while releasing him would save the Lions $7 million.
Collins topped 100 tackles for the fourth time in his career in 2020, tallying 101 stops, including six behind the line of scrimmage. He added a sack, interception and fumble recovery. In 2019, he didn’t have nearly the same level of tackle production, but was a bigger playmaker, recording 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.
The value of a mentor
Less than a week after the Lions hired Glenn in January, the team added former head coach Dom Capers as a senior defensive assistant, reuniting the former head coach with the man he coached three seasons with for the Houston Texans from 2002-04.
As Glenn, a 15-year NFL veteran, rises up the coaching ranks, it was a great opportunity to add a mentor to serve as a sounding board in Detroit.
“Me, playing with Dom, and I think I’ve said this before, one of the most organized men I’ve ever been around,” Glenn said. “Listen, he has like an array of knowledge, as far as his 3-4 defense, something I’ve always wanted to do. And man, it’s a no brainer to get a guy that has a lot of success in this area with Dom.
“Plus who he is as a person,” Glenn continued. “He’s a great man. He’s a great teacher, has a lot of knowledge, and I’d be a fool not to utilize a person of that nature. So, he’s one of the first people I wanted to bring in.”
Capers, 70, began his coaching career at Kent State in 1972 and entered the NFL as a defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints — coincidentally Glenn’s previous coaching role — in 1986.
Capers has eight years experience as a head coach in the league and another 16 as a defensive coordinator, holding the role with four different franchises, most recently with the Green Bay Packers (2009-2017).
Finding a return man
The Lions are a long way from sorting out a depth chart, and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is only just starting to get a feel for who will be in the mix to return kicks for the team this year after Jamal Agnew signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent this offseason.
According to Fipp, he’s starting out the offseason program with five players getting looks in the return roles, headed by free-agent addition Kalif Raymond.
“He’s done a really nice job,” Fipp said about Raymond. “We’ve got a bunch of other guys. Obviously, Amon-Ra St. Brown just came into the mix. He did that at USC. Then we got guys like (Victor) Bolden, we’ve got (Tom) Kennedy. …Oh, we’ve (also) got (D’Angelo) Amos.
“Obviously, we’re working a lot of those guys right now,” Fipp said. “… At the end of the day, these guys are just going to get a bunch of reps right now, and then as we get closer to training camp, we’ll sort out who is kind of in front of who.”
Raymond is the only one from that group with NFL experience. The speedster has handled more than 100 returns during his first four seasons, averaging 8.3 yards on 56 punts and 20.5 yards on 53 kickoffs.
St. Brown, a third-round draft pick, has a little experience from his time at USC, primarily fielding punts, where he averaged a modest 5.3 yards on 19 boots.
Amos is the wildcard. An undrafted free agent, he didn’t handle return duties as a graduate transfer at the University of Virginia in 2020. But at James Madison, he had five punt returns for touchdowns across three seasons, averaging 16.6 yards on 76 attempts during that stretch.
Goff quickly connecting
Ahead of his first week of on-field practices with his new team, quarterback Jared Goff had already gotten a jump start on forming a bond with some of his new teammates, both on and off the field.
As previously reported, Goff hosted workouts near his home in the Los Angels area, where he and several of Detroit’s receivers, running backs and tight ends started familiarizing themselves with the new scheme offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn is installing this year.
“It did, it helps,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “It at least gives you a jumpstart into the first week, basically. You’re not coming in here and having to just stop and literally just teach every small thing and go as slow as possible.
“… You can tell that they had an idea walking in of what it needed to kind of look like or what we were calling things,” Campbell said. “It did (matter), and that’s a credit to him and those guys. I mean, they’re willing to go out there and work with him out on their own time. There again, that says a lot, I think, about the guys we have on this team.”
The effort to bring guys together also resonated with his teammates.
“He’s a guy that really cares about his players, just wants to connect with them and I think that’s really, really cool,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “Just to have that connection outside of football. Just being able to hang out with him, be friends you know? That’s kind of a cool situation that we have and that he’s got in that locker room.
“He’s real hungry,” Hockenson said. “He can speak on that, but we’re all excited to have him here. He’s such a smart player, good player. Just the things that he’s able to do with his arm and the things that he’s able to do in the pocket, just even in seven-on-seven (drills) is a cool thing.”
Running back D’Andre Swift also raved about working with Goff.
“It’s amazing so far,” Swift said. “A natural leader. Talk with him a lot when he first got the job, just couldn’t wait to get in contact with him. Threw with him and the offensive skill group out in LA for a week before everybody got in town. Just the way he’s handling it, I love be around him.”