One of the centerpieces of a stacked 2011 LSU signing class, Collins became one of the most talked about five-star linemen in the nation.
The biggest question with Collins has been how quickly he would see the field on an offensive line blessed with veteran bodies.
This spring, that answer may be closer than ever before.
Collins, now a sophomore after seeing action in seven games with no starts last fall, is in a battle with sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk for the starting job at left guard.
"The spring is where I am going to show the coaches they can count on me," Collins said. "They can put me in the game and I will be smart."
What makes the spring paramount for Collins is that Dworaczyk, for the most part, will be sidelined, taking a cautious approach to his return from rehab for a major knee injury.
"Josh can practice, it's more of a choice," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We will probably get him back in as spring ball gets going."
That means the majority, if not all of, the first-team reps could go to Collins.
"Collins is going to step in there and play," Miles said. "He is going to make the position play better than him.
"I think Josh will understand the challenge, and I think he will meet it."
Besides the question of when Collins might get on the field in the fall, the second question LSU might have is where the future on the field is for the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder: Tackle, guard or both?
For now, it's the latter, at least while junior Chris Faulk is holding down the left tackle spot. That's when Collins can aim for sliding over to the position he was recruited out of high school.
"I am the primary guard, but I am doing some left tackle," Collins said. "Coach Miles told me that being able to play more than one position is always a good thing. Wherever he needs me, I can play guard or tackle."
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There's always the thought that, after recording 46 snaps last fall, Collins could have taken a redshirt and entered 2012 with four years of eligibility remaining, something he admitted giving thought to during fall camp.
"I thought about redshirting at the beginning of the year, but I kind of wanted to play," he said. "I was just ready to go."
When the Tigers hosted Northwestern State, Collins was written into the game plan, a first step to a college career that the sophomore said he wouldn't forget any time soon.
"My second rep, we ran a power play and I pulled and knocked the dude's helmet off," Collins said. "That will always stick with me.
"I have gotten a lot better with the experience I got last year," Collins said. "When I first got here, everything was brand new to me. I was a baby fish in the water with sharks. I had to adapt to the whole scene. It grew on me. Now it's way easier.
"Watching T-Bob and Blackwell and veteran linemen, and it wasn't all new to me. It's kind of familiar, and I have gotten a lot better than this past fall."
In the case of Dworaczyk, there is nothing but praise from a sophomore to a sixth-year senior – a Yoda of sorts for the up-and-coming linemen at LSU.
"Josh is not only a great football player, but he's a good leader and he's a smart football player," Collins said. "I learn a lot from Josh. He can tell you anything about any play. He just knows what he is doing.
"I know he's not healthy right now, but he's really helping me every day. I respect Josh as a player."
As for the journey of an offensive lineman, consider Collins closing in on the chapter, giving Miles the confidence to go to youth over available veteran bodies.
"The curriculum for a young offensive lineman is not something you can describe," Miles said. "It's ever changing, and really a wide piece of knowledge that they have to get.
"The good thing about La'el, after a year he is much more confident and comfortable with the things we are calling. It really takes about a year to understand your assignments fully, and then technically, you have to figure out how to do it. That is your second year, and that is where he is at.
"If he can come on there, I think he will be playing. He is easily one of the bigger, stronger guys that we have."
While Collins isn't ready to make any predictions on the starting job, he accepts the fact that in the SEC, more than five linemen are usually called upon sooner than later, meaning he will need to be ready to go by next fall, regardless of where Dworaczyk stands with his recovery and bid to get to the field.
"I know I'll be out there at some point, and I feel real good about it," Collins said. "I like it this spring. Nothing is handed to you out here, and you have to work for it. I really respect that. It's all about working hard."