Nick Collins has developed into one of the top safeties in the NFL during a five-year career that includes back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances. The Green Bay Packers rewarded him in March with a three-year extension that pays $23.4 million.
Collins brought his mother and other family members to the signing of his first nonrookie contract. So what did he do to celebrate?
Commemorate the event with a new Cadillac Escalade?
Host a party at the 40/40 Club in New York?
“We just went to the house and celebrated among ourselves,” Collins said with a smile. “It wasn’t anything big. … It was just a dream come true for myself and my family.
“I’m a humble guy. I’m not flashy. … All that is for the birds. I don’t need those problems. That lifestyle brings problems.”
Collins has brought problems for opposing quarterbacks throughout the league. He has 13 interceptions in the last two seasons — the most by any NFL safety.
Collins is a lead example of the franchise developing its own stars after he was drafted in the second round in 2005. But many before him have grown complacent after establishing themselves and depositing the big check.
“You just stay humble,” Collins said. “You can’t let that get to you. I’m about winning football games. Once I stepped on this team … I told them my goal was to win a championship. And I’ve yet to do that.
“I’m always hungry.”
Collins spent the offseason working on the subtleties of his position. Technique. Body positioning. Tackling skills. Reading the quarterback. Creating better angles.
“The one thing that’s really encouraging to see is the fact he’s carrying himself like he’s still in the learning stages of his career,” secondary coach Darren Perry said. “He’s got the numbers, he’s got the Pro Bowls, he’s got the money. But, I know inside of him burns a little fire to be the best.
“He wants to get better.”
Perry said the challenge is to continue to perfect technique and master the scheme without taking away natural instincts. Collins has clearly displayed a knack for getting to the ball.
“You have to be careful because you don’t want to overcoach them,” Perry said. “You don’t want to slow them down. We always talk about allowing you to use your instincts and never wanting to take that away.
“Allowing him to still be a football player, but at the same time having a better understanding of the system and how it’s all put together, which hopefully will allow him to take more calculated risks.”
Coach Mike McCarthy added, “Not only is he a starting premier safety, but he also plays a lot of special teams. He has a lot of flexibility for us.”
Part of Collins’ maturation and development is directed toward taking a larger leadership role within the defense. Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett and Nick Barnett may have more experience, but none have a Pro Bowl on their resume. Clay Matthews is only a second-year player.
Only reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson and Al Harris, who still is recovering from knee surgery, have the on-field accolades that Collins possesses.
As part of his new teaching role, Collins will allow rookie safety Morgan Burnett to make the calls in the preseason game against Cleveland on Saturday. Collins took over those responsibilities in the first year under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. With 2009 starter Atari Bigby missing the offseason (contract negotiations) and now the entire preseason (ankle surgery), Burnett spent that time working with the No. 1 unit. Collins has been particularly active in the development of Burnett.
“I’m going to let him control the defense, so everybody can trust him,” Collins said. “I don’t think the other seven guys trust him yet, up front. For them to trust him, he’s going to have to do that. That’s just a starting point for him. A stepping stone that I think he can overcome.
“Hopefully, when I’m done I can get into the coaching thing. So, it’s just a starting point for me. It’s been fun so far.”