Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins meets the media Tuesday. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — It was like seeing a unicorn tap-dancing with Bigfoot next to the Loch Ness Monster.
On a morning where a guy dressed up like a superhero was seen roaming the arena floor next to a Mexican TV reporter carrying a puppet, and questions like, “Who has your favorite booty: J-Lo, Iggy Azalea or Kim Kardashian?” were asked of Rob Gronkowski and “What kind of oil do you use on your beard?” for Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the oddest sight of all was Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins answering questions from the media.
The second-year linebacker, who almost never speaks with reporters, offered a simple explanation as to why he’s been so quiet over the last year-plus.
“Yeah, man,” he said with a small smile. “You know, I’m a busy guy.”
It was hard not to notice the contrast between Collins — who clearly would have rather been anywhere else in the world than speaking with us Tuesday morning — enduring the session with reporters in relative good humor, and Seattle’s media-phobic running back Marshawn Lynch, who answered every question during his four-plus minute session with reporters Tuesday, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” before strolling out after roughly five minutes.
“It’s not something I look forward to,” Collins confessed while looking out at reporters from his podium. “I can tell you like that. It’s just not something that I get excited about. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t really need all the publicity.
“I’m just trying to get this right here over with. I’m just trying to get this Super Bowl over with, so I can go back home.”
To be fair, Collins has been a busy guy. The hyper-athletic 6-foot-4, 250-pounder led the Patriots with 109 tackles this season, but even more important, he emerged as a breakout playmaker for the Patriots. He’s only one of three guys in the NFL this year with at least four sacks and two interceptions (a group that includes Green Bay‘s Julius Peppers and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin). Collins also has seven quarterback hits and three passes defensed.
When you toss in his special teams value as well (he blocked a field goal against Miami), he’s become one of the most important pieces of the defensive puzzle for the Patriots.
“That dude is an awesome football player,” cornerback Brandon Browner of Collins.
Over the course of his career with the Patriots, the 25-year-old has been used as a defensive chess piece by Bill Belichick. He’s lined up opposing wide receivers and tight ends in the passing game, and has used his strength and speed to get physical with some of the better pass catchers in the game. He and fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower have also managed to become impressive pass rushers, mainly working A-gap blitzes to perfection.
When it comes to his responsibilities, does he have a preference?
“I do, but I tend not to settle, you know?” he said. “I like to experience a lot of stuff. I like to do a lot of things on the field, especially if I can help my teammates. If they want to put me at safety, I’ll play safety. Put me at quarterback, I’ll play quarterback. I just do what’s best for the team.”
With the season-ending knee injury to veteran Jerod Mayo in October, Collins and Hightower have emerged as twin pillars of a New England defense that has offered a lot of 4-2-5 looks over the course of the season. On Tuesday, Collins spoke of the “brotherhood” that bonds the linebacking corps, one that has lasted even after Mayo went down with his injury.
“It’s been fun,” Collins said. “It’s been a success as you can see, so you know, we just need to keep that brotherhood going. I learned a lot from Hightower and Jerod Mayo. I try to use everything to my advantage.”