Collins finally getting his chance

With a brand-new coaching staff installing a fresh offense, most Bama fans are understandably curious about what to expect next season. But while he prefers not to get into too many specifics, junior flanker Sam Collins is confident that fans will like what they see. "The one thing I'll say is that we're going to put some points on the board."

"I don't think we'll see the 5-6 wide-receiver sets," Collins continued. "But the ball is going to be thrown--and it's going down the field a little more."

Perhaps it's his youthful, school-boy good looks, but according to his position coaches and teammates, Collins has never gotten the respect he deserves at Alabama.

Of course with outstanding talent spread throughout the wide receiver depth chart reaching down even to third string, some might wonder if there will be enough footballs to go around. "I think there will be enough," Collins said with a laugh. "We're going to run more of a balanced offense---run and pass. That'll force the defense to stretch. It'll be spread out."

Along with Freddie Milons, Jason McAddley and Antonio Carter, Collins finished spring drills listed first-string at wideout. That lineup basically mimics last season's group, but fans shouldn't think that it happened by default. "We all were a little worried back (at the start of spring)," Collins admitted. "It was a new coaching staff, and they didn't know who we were. They didn't know a scholarshipped guy from a walk-on guy. So everyone had the same mindset--to go out and show what they had.

"Coach Fran told us in our first team meeting that if you were a starter and could prove it, then you'd probably emerge as a starter again. But everyone had to give their best effort."

For Collins, the first-team designation could be viewed as vindication of sorts. Since first arriving on campus he has had to fight against misconceptions that he is 'too slow' or 'too small.' And despite support from his position coaches (Dabo Swinney previously and now Kenith Pope), many still question Collins' ability to play on this level.

But the Fayette native has never listened. "Actually, I wasn't that worried," Collins related. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but you kind of get a feeling as an athlete. You know you can play at this level, and right now I have that feeling. Of course there are a bunch of other guys (on our squad) that probably feel the same way, but I wasn't that worried last March. I just went out and gave my best effort every time."

On the 'official' depth chart released by Alabama, Collins is listed first string at one of two slotback positions. But that designation doesn't fully explain his role. "I'm working mostly at flanker on the inside," Collins said. "It has a lot to do with my size, having to block linebackers. But all (the Tide receivers) learn every position, so we can all rotate in and out. (My playing) on the inside depends on the number of receivers. If we're in a one- or two-receiver set, then I can be on the outside. So it depends on the set we're in."

Heading into spring drills, there was a lot of speculation about how the players would respond to a new coaching staff. But according to Collins, those worries were overblown. "Pretty much everybody picked up where they left off. It's football. It's a game. The players come out here and give their all. There's not too much difference between plays with different coaching staffs. Our job is just to give it everything we've got."

As one of the hardest-working lifters in the off-season conditioning program, Collins (shown here on the bench press) was selected to participate in "The Night of Champions" held following spring practice.

However, Collins is quick to point out that along with an entirely new staff, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione also brought along a different attitude. "The new staff is more motivational," Collins related. "They'll tell you 'Good job,' when you do well. And they'll also tell you when you do wrong. But they push you to your max. They want to get the best out of you. I think Coach Fran has done a great job of that, and everybody has excelled."

"At first, practices were tough," Collins continued. "But I think spring went very well. The pace of practices changed, but I think the players adjusted to that. I think we made a lot of improvement."

Franchione's fast-paced practices were widely reported, but Collins reports there was more to the adjustment than just getting into shape. "It was a combination of both mental and physical," he explained. "We're learning a new offense and defense, so that's the mental part. But the practices were much more up-tempo, so we had to adjust to that. It took awhile, but I think we pushed through it."

Of course besides his ultra-organized practices, Franchione has also mandated a commitment to improvement in the weight room. "The weight room work has really paid off," Collins said. "Since January, most everybody has gotten a lot stronger. And that pays off on the field. The players can tell. Our strength and speed has increased, and that's going to help us a lot in the fall."

As one of the featured lifters in the recent Night of Champions (he came close to breaking record for wide receivers on the bench press, having increased his max almost 100 pounds on the exercise since December), Collins has definitely responded to Franchione's challenge. "The players improving is partly fear or accountability," Collins explained. "But it's also us wanting to get stronger and get better. We went 3-8 last year, and nobody liked that. So we've all been busting our tails in the weight room, trying to get better. And everyone has improved."

After redshirting his first year on campus, Collins has seen both the good (an SEC title) and awful (last year's 3-8 debacle) during his career. And the fourth-year junior understands better than most that the squad can't afford to slack off in its preparations.

"I'm not one of the outspoken leaders," Collins related. "So I try to lead by example, I guess. I try and give it all I have and let the young guys see. I haven't grabbed anyone by the facemask yet, but if that time comes, I believe I'll do it. I just haven't had to yet."

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