The Chicago Bears have some serious depth issues at defensive tackle. Beyond starters Stephen Paea and Henry Melton, there is little-to-no experience. In fact, of the six linemen battling for two roster spots, only Nate Collins has any legitimate NFL playing time.
Collins was the winner a five-man camp competition last year for the club's No. 4 DT position. Previous to that, he spent two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, playing 173 total snaps in 10 appearances. He was suspended in Week 1 last season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and was a healthy scratch until Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers. From that point on, Collins was a full-time member of the Bears' defensive-line rotation.
Heading into this fourth season, Collins has played in just 19 total NFL games and has been on the field for a little more than 400 snaps. With nothing but rookies and journeyman vying for Chicago's backup DT spots this offseason, Collins is the only player with a legitimate shot at contributing in 2013. But is he up to the task?
If the Bears can rely on Collins each week to be the primary backup to Melton and Paea, it will go a long way toward the success of the defense. Because if Collins tanks, the coaching staff will be forced to rotate the defensive ends inside on passing downs, which will eventually wear down those edge rushers.
In order to predict whether Collins can be an impact player this year, a season in which he'll have every opportunity to earn significant snaps, let's go back to the game film from 2012. We charted every snap Collins played in his best and worst game from last year. To decipher which games were his best and worst, we will use the objective grading system of Pro Football Focus (PFF).
According to PFF, Collins' best game was his first, against the Panthers in Week 8. His worst game three weeks later on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. By tracking Collins in these two contests, we'll have a much better idea of his strengths and weaknesses, which will allow us to better predict what type of success he'll have in 2013.
Week 8 vs. Carolina Panthers
Carolina did not boast a strong offensive line last year, yet that doesn't diminish how dominant Collins was in this contest. He played 35 snaps, 20 on the right side of the line and 15 on the left. He was on the field against 18 pass plays and 17 runs plays. He had three solo tackles and two hurries, both of which were inches away from sacks.
The Panthers just could not move Collins in this game. They tried on numerous occasions to double-team him and had very little success. Of his 35 snaps, he was knocked off the ball just twice. For the other 33 snaps, he won the battle at the snap. He showed good overall explosiveness at the snap, a quick swim move and good ability to track the ball.
Cam Newton & Nate Collins
His best play was arguably his first. On the third snap of the game, on 1st and 10, Collins used a rip spin move and immediately beat the blocker. He was in QB Cam Newton's face in a heartbeat. The quarterback saw him at the last second and made a quick sidestep to create room. Collins chased him out of the pocket, his fingertips just inches away from Newton, yet the QB was able to get the pass off, albeit incomplete.
It was on this play that Collins demonstrated his ability to penetrate into the backfield. The offensive guard reached and Collins just blew right past him. The fact he didn't end up with the sack was a shame, as he definitely earned one on that play.
He had a second hurry later in the game on a play that was just as impressive. At the snap, Collins again flew right past the blocker and was in the backfield right away. He then plowed over the running back trying to block him and got right in Newton's face. The QB rolled away again and got the pass off a split second before Collins reached him.
Yet Collins' biggest impact in this game came against the run, where he was a force. When plays were run at him, he was able to hold his ground, beat double teams and make plays.
His first standout effort came on a 1st down in the first quarter. Collins lined up at LDT and slams into the guard, driving him inside at the snap. The running back then bounces the play off-tackle. Collins is able to immediately change directions, create separation from the offensive lineman and cut off the play. He makes the tackle after a 1-yard gain and elicits a holding call in the process.
His second great effort against the run came in the second quarter. Lined up at right defensive tackle, shaded in at nose to the center's left, Collins exploded into the backfield at the snap, ripping through an arm block. This forced the ball carrier to bounce outside, which allowed the linebackers to scrape and take him down for a two-yard loss.
His next solid effort came in the third quarter. He lined up at RDT and the play was run right at him. Collins rocked the offensive linemen and drove him to the ground. This created a huge pile in the hole, giving the running back nowhere to run. The play went for no gain.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, he lined up RDT. The play was run at him. Collins was double teamed at the point of attack. He shed the first blocker, then shed the second blocker and was able to make the tackle for no gain.
Week 11 vs. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2012, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Collins did not fare as well as he did against Carolina. Yet his extremely poor play, and the fact the 49ers' front five tossed him around like a rag doll, could not have been predicted. He played 23 total snaps, 12 at LDT and 13 at RDT. He had one quarterback hurry, no sacks and no tackles. After a poor start, he was benched for most of the third quarter, with many of his reps coming in garbage time.
Against the 49ers, Collins could not hold his ground against anyone. On double teams, he was destroyed and easily driven backward. He didn't get pushed back as much in one-on-one matchups but he consistently lost the leverage battle and was easily sealed off from ball carriers. Against the pass, he was basically nonexistent.
Collins' problems stemmed from poor fundamentals and body control. He was consistently slow off the ball, which never allowed him to get any push. One he locked on with opposing linemen, they simply positioned their bodies in between him and the running back or quarterback. On nearly every run snap, the San Francisco blockers easily moved Collins out of the way.
Beyond those problems, he also lost the ability to track the football. One play in particular stands out. On a 1st down, with Collins at LDT, the 49ers ran the ball right at him. He slid inside, away from the play, on his own. The blocker just mirrored him down the line until Collins took himself out of the play. The offensive linemen then turned and sealed the defender away from the ball carrier. The running back then had a huge lane through which to run in the area that Collins vacated.
Collins also appeared to wear down immensely as this game progressed.
What to Expect in 2013
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Tracking Collins at his best and worst has given us a much clearer idea of what he could potentially bring to the table this year. First off, he's much better suited to play nose tackle, rotating with Paea. When he's on his game, he's nearly impossible to move and his explosiveness off the ball gives him the ability to make plays in the backfield. Even against double teams, Collins shows the power to stack and shed.
On first and second down, he is definitely a weapon and often looked better at nose tackle than did Paea in 2012. His biggest issue is consistency in technique and effort. If he can improve in those two areas, there's no reason he can't be a weekly contributor on run downs.
He'll get plenty of QB hurries in the process but he's not ideally suited for the 3-technique position. He's very strong and has a solid bull rush, which he'll use to set up his swim move, but beyond that, his pass-rush arsenal is very limited. Adding a few more moves could help him earn his first career sack.
So can Collins be the club's No. 3 DT this year? If he has improved from last season, and there's no reason to think he hasn't, then he'll fill that role for the Bears in 2013. And even if he turns out to be nothing more than a rotational player, that's about as good as the club can expect given the other options on the current roster. Collins does the dirty, thankless job in the trenches for which no one gives him credit and he has the upside to be an impact player.
Collins is far from a Pro Bowl player but he's not going to hurt the team on the field and has every-down potential if called into duty.
**R = run play; P = pass play
Week 8 vs. Carolina
-1st and 10. RDT, P, swim move, blows past opposing guard, nearly gets sack on Newton, fingertip away, flushes out QB and forces incompletion.
-2nd and 10. RDT, R, double-teamed, pushed back 2 yards, holds ground and breaks free. Not in on tackle, 1-yard loss.
-1st and 10. RDT, R, holds ground, run up the middle, gets a piece of ball carrier. Assist. 4 yard gain.
-2nd and 6. LDT, P, short pass, no pressure, incomplete.
-1st and 10. LDT, P, no pressure (next to Melton), big gain on pass.
-1st and 10. LDT, R, drives guard inside, changes direction to mirror running back, gets a piece of ball carrier, elicits holding call on the guard.
-1st and 20, RDT, P, slight pressure, 5-yard completion
-2nd and 15, RDT, P, slight pressure, incomplete.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, explodes into backfield, forces ballcarrier to bounce outside, not in on tackle, 2-yard loss.
-2nd and 12, LDT, P, screen pass, stops rush once he realizes it's a screen, changes direction and chases down running back for the tackle. 9-yard gain.
-2nd and 10, RDT, R, stretch play to his side, he takes on double team and stretches play to sideline, 1-yard gain.
-3rd and inches, NT, R, QB sneak, loses balance and gets driven down. QB picks up 1st down.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, takes on double team, holds ground, fights off blocks, is able to get half the tackle for a no gain.
-1st and 10, RDT, P, no pressure.
-2nd and 10, RDT, P, no pressure.
-1st and 10, RDT, P, screen pass, incomplete.
-2nd and 10, RDT, R, just rocks opposing guard at the snap, puts him on his heels, separates and makes tackle for 2-yard gain.
-3rd and 8. LDT, P, bull rush, drives back to blockers, pushes them into QB's face, pass complete.
-1st and 10, RDT, P, coverage good, he gets slow penetration and nearly a sack but QB steps through and runs.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, slants right and drive blockers back, RB falls in backfield for no gain.
-2nd and 10, LDT, R, driven back, pushed out of the play (1st time all game, 10:37 in 3rd).
-1st and 10, RDT, R, play right at him, takes on double team, separates, gets a hand on RB but spins off and can't bring him down. 6-yard gain.
-2nd and 4, LDT, P, zero screen to WR, no chance for pressure.
-3rd and 1, LDT, R, QB keeper right at him, gets driven inside, first down.
-1st and 10, RDT, P, double teamed, no pressure.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, play right at him, he blows up blocker, drives him to the ground and plugs the hole, RB runs into the pile, no gain.
-2nd and 10, LDT, P, swings around on stunt, no pressure.
-1st and 10, LDT, P, quick out, Smith falls, Jennings pick six.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, play at him, penetrates, holds his ground, works toward the ball carrier and gets a piece of the tackle for no gain.
-2nd and 9. LDT, P, double teamed, no pressure.
-1st and 10, LDT, P, swims past blocker, blows through RB and flushes QB out, 7-yard completion.
-2nd and 3. RDT, R, double teamed initially, sheds 1st blocker, holds ground, sheds 2nd blocker, makes the tackle for 1-yard gain.
-3rd and 1, RDT, R, play action rollout away from him, QB picks up 1st down.
-2nd and 8, RDT, P, double teamed, no pressure.
Week 11 vs. San Francisco
-1st and 10, RDT, R, driven five yards back at snap by double team, eventually separates and piles on the short gain.
-2nd and 9, RDT, P, slow off ball, no pressure.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, lines up over center, not much off the ball and then kind of watches the play go outside, 6-yard gain.
-2nd and 4. RDT, P, double teamed, no pressure.
-3rd and 1, RDT, P, stuffed 1-on-1, no pressure.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, easily driven outside, play run inside of him, 13-yard gain.
-1st and 10, RDT, P, no penetration, no pressure, 12-yard completion.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, slides right down the line, then easily cut off as play is run to the location he left. 7-yard gain. Not sure what he was doing on this play. Very weak effort.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, play run away from him, he's able to get leverage on blocker and drives him over the pile. Play goes for a 3-yard loss.
-2nd and 14, RDT, R, bootleg run away from him, gives chase but can't get there. 3-yard gain.
-1st and 10, LDT, P, swings around on stunt, quick pass, no pressure.
-2nd and 7, RDT, R, play run right at him, he slides inside down the line, blocker just lets him got then seals him from the running back, 3-yard gain.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, swims past blocker but runs into a body on the ground, can't step over him and the RB flies right past him. 2-yard gain.
-2nd and 6, RDT, P, doubled initially then let go, gets into QBs face and is an inch from a sack but Kaepernick gets around him to the outside. Incomplete.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, play run away from him, easily sealed away from it. No chance.
-2nd and 10, LDT, P, no pressure, no penetration.
-3rd and 2, LDT, P, rollout away from him, can't catch QB.
-2nd and 10, LDT, R, play run to his side, he works down the line but he's driven backward and cannot separate.
-1st and 10, RDT, R, right at him, blockers easily able to move him out of the hole to the side. Really bad effort.
-2nd and 9, LDT, P, rollout, can't catch QB. No chance.
-1st and 10, LDT, R, play run off-tackle right, he gets penetration but he's nowhere near the play. 5-yard gain.
-2nd and 6, LDT, R, he is let free, gets immediate penetration, but is trapped by crossing FB, RB runs right by. Collins too busy pushing FB to get back and help on the tackle.
-3rd and 5, LDT, R, play run to the outside, he cannot separate and is nowhere near the play.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.