Packers sign second-rounder Collins

Nine down, two to go. The Green Bay Packers on Wednesday reached contract terms with perhaps their most important rookie draft pick.

Safety Nick Collins, one of the Packers' two second-round selections, reportedly has agreed to a five-year contract — a deal a year longer than the typical second-rounder receives.

Collins will be given every opportunity to win the starting job at free safety. He'll face incumbent Mark Roman, while veteran off-season signings Earl Little and Arturo Freeman are in the mix at both safety slots.

Signing Collins now means he'll be in town when training camp begins in earnest on Friday when the veterans hit the field. Getting Collins in camp is vital on several fronts.

First, if he wants to be the opening-day starter, not only does he need as many reps as possible, it gives him more time to work with the team's top defensive backs and build cohesiveness in the secondary. No doubt, the Packers would like to tab their starting safety duo as early as possible and let them get acquainted day after day.

Second, Collins simply needs to be immersed in the defense. Collins certainly had early-round talent, but his intelligence came into question when he mustered only a 14 on his 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test before the draft. Packers coach Mike Sherman acknowledged as much during the draft.

"It will be a challenge for him learning the defense. There will be challenges from a mental standpoint," Sherman said before getting into Collins' strengths. "He's got speed. He's got a vertical jump. He has good hands. He has good downhill range."

Having gotten a look at Collins during the two off-season minicamps, concerns about his mental acuity are slowly being erased. Collins has a nose for the football and the skills to make something happen. During the second minicamp, Collins made a beeline to a pass before it was even thrown, nearly picking it off with a leaping attempt.

"I can say the kid did a good job, as well as any rookie safety I've been around," new Packers defensive backs coach Joe Baker, an 11-year NFL coaching veteran, told The Green Bay Press-Gazette. "He's very dedicated, very conscientious. He'll do as well as any rookie I've been around because he works so hard at it."

If Baker's hunch is right, then Collins very well could be the starter on opening day. Roman proved a huge liability in pass coverage while Freeman and Little weren't good enough to be kept by the defensively challenged Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, respectively. If Collins gets the IQ part of things down, his speed (4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and his love for hitting ballcarriers, may be enough to push him into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

"There is no first unit," new defensive coordinator Jim Bates told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "right now, it's wide open. That's the strategy we're going in with. It's going to start sorting out, but yet we want to be fair with these guys and give them all a fair opportunity. It's going to be a process. If somebody jumps way ahead during training camp, that will take care of itself. But right now, we have to give all these guys an opportunity."

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