Safety dance all about making plays

Nick Collins has experience but has dropped the ball on his opportunities to make plays. Aaron Rouse is untested but had two interceptions in three starts in place of Collins last year.

The NFL is a bottom-line business, and here's the bottom line:

Nick Collins hasn't intercepted a pass since the regular-season finale in 2006.

Aaron Rouse started three games in place of Collins at midseason last year and picked off a pass in two of them.

Perhaps that's why coach Mike McCarthy was so forthcoming when asked if Rouse has a chance to challenge Collins for the starting job.

"I think there's competition throughout our whole football team, and that's one position you could point out where it's evident," he said after Tuesday's practice.

The coaches have touted Collins as a Pro Bowl talent since not long after he was drafted in the second round in 2005. The team thought so much of Collins' potential that they gave him the No. 36 worn by former safety LeRoy Butler, who was voted to the NFL's all-1990s team.

But Collins has only four interceptions in his career — two against the Bears in the 2006 finale — and, to be kind, doesn't have the softest hands on the team. It's a knock he's aware of.

"Just make the plays that come my way," Collins said when asked Tuesday about the key for him to take the next step in his career evolution. "Got my hands on a couple balls last year that should have been interceptions but didn't bring them in. My thing is just to make plays."

Still, Collins has started all 45 games in which he's been healthy, and he was the player who made sure last year's improved secondary was in the right place. While he lacks Rouse's size, he's a better tackler.

"If you look at Nick's play, Nick has been consistent," McCarthy said. "His productivity is something that really everybody wants to improve on. You want to see him be more productive. We do ask Nick to do a lot. He can play both safety positions, and he also has the ability to play corner too. When I look at Nick, I look at him in line with pretty much our whole defense. ... I look for the overall productivity of the defense to improve, the ability to be more aggressive, things like that."

Rouse has been an intriguing player since the day he was drafted in the third round in 2007. At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, he's practically the size of a linebacker. Neither of his interceptions last year were gimmes. Both of them showed the football instincts that maybe Collins lacks.

"I don't think you could not be happy with the progress Aaron Rouse has made throughout the spring, and really, the productivity that he played with in his limited opportunities in season," McCarthy said.

Sometimes, players say something that makes you raise an eyebrow. Collins did that on Tuesday.

"I'm not all about starting," he said. "If the coach want Aaron Rouse to start, he'll put Aaron Rouse in. If he want me to start, he want me to start. That goes for anybody's position. Every year, there's going to be competition. I'm not going to worry about that. It's not in my hands. If he want me to be here, I'll be here."

If that "I'm not all about starting" line showed a lack of passion or simply a canned response by a player not especially interested in an interview is impossible to tell. Still, it's in stark contrast to what Rouse said last week.

"Oh, man, it was a great taste. I want more of it," Rouse said of his three starts last season. "Definitely, I want to get in there and be a starter."

If Rouse continues making plays while Collins continues to let them slip through his hands, Rouse might get his chance.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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