Collins focuses on safety

Nick Collins started one season at free safety and one season at strong safety for Division I-AA Bethune-Cookman in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but caught the attention of the Packers with his man-to-man coverage ability playing cornerback at the Senior Bowl.

"He could actually play corner or in the dime," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "He has excellent skills in coverage, which separates him from a lot of the other safeties. He's also packed pretty solid and lays a heavy punch."

Collins will have a lot to learn playing at the NFL level and is not likely to earn one of two spots over veteran Mark Roman or free agent newcomers Arturo Freeman and Earl Little. He will also be competing against Marviel Underwood (fourth round).

Some other teams rated Collins as a second-day selection primarily due to concerns about his mental aptitude, according to reports. The Packers dispatched new secondary coach Joe Baker to determine if Collins could learn.

"Joe felt he could learn our defense and get on the field," Sherman said.

Still, is it possible that a raw athlete with scores of just 10 and 14 on the Wonderlic intelligence test and a Proposition 48 casualty in 2001 could start as a rookie on a team desperate for not one but two starting safeties?

"It will be a challenge for him learning the defense," Sherman said. "There will be challenges from a mental standpoint. He's got speed. He's got a vertical jump (40 inches). He has good hands. He has good downhill range."

Collins stepped up for the Wildcats' secondary the past two years with the departure of Rashean Mathis, a two-year starter with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He started every game in 2003 and 2004, recording 12 interceptions, two which he took back for touchdowns.

He, too, feels safety is his best position.

"I'm real aggressive, and I can run stop," said Collins. "I love to hit. That's why I'm a safety."

The Packers now will be anxious to see whether Collins can pick up the mental side where communication will be crucial with a majority of new coaches on defense and several new players.

In five post-draft minicamp practices, Collins made just one dramatic play, coming out of a two-deep look to vault high and bat away a pass. He and Underwood played together in the camp. Collins also played about 10 snaps at cornerback during one practice.

"The first day both of them had a little trouble as far as the rhythm and the eye control," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said. "But there was steady improvement. The thing that was shocking was Nick made some checks that were hard for a rookie to make."

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