Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins spent the minicamp in Green Bay, and safeties coach Darren Perry spent those three days attached to Collins' hip and ear.
"There's a lot of communication," Perry said with a smile.
With Collins' well-chronicled absence from organized team activities, the three-day minicamp in late June was his first on-the-field taste of the new defensive scheme being implemented by coordinator Dom Capers.
Collins appeared agitated when a television reporter suggested his absence from the practice field for 11 of 12 OTAs meant he didn't know what he was doing.
"Let me get that corrected," he said. "I've been in my playbook. I know what I'm supposed to do out there."
There's a difference between knowing what's in the playbook and putting that knowledge to work on the playing field, however. Perry, who's in his eighth year as an NFL assistant coach after a stellar nine-year playing career, agrees that Collins knows what he's doing but says that's not good enough.
"Nick is coming along," Perry said. "He's a work in progress. Nick's missed out on a lot of defense. He's been doing some things on his own. Obviously, he knows he's behind the 8-ball and we need to do some catching up. I think the biggest thing is, as long as we recognize it and do the things to get him caught up, I think we'll be OK. But it's going to be a work in progress, and we both know it."
Capers broke the installation of his defense into 12 pieces, and one segment was put into place during each of the dozen OTAs. The minicamp was used as a review, giving Collins a taste of everything. But he hasn't gotten an in-depth, on-the-field indoctrination into this complicated scheme, though taking the first-team reps and a lot of the second-team reps with Anthony Smith sidelined helped.
"The last couple days was the first time that we didn't actually have anything new going in," Perry said. "It gave the guys a chance to just relax and kind of catch their breath and not having to worry about learning 10 or 12 new defenses a day. He didn't get that opportunity, so now he's kind of catching bits and pieces of it. He's almost trying to do algebra when you don't know how to add or subtract. You have an idea, but you have to have some of those base fundamentals down before you can go too far. We're kind of cheating a little bit because of where we are, because we can't go too far back for one guy. We're kind of cheating our learning process, but we'll get caught up and we'll try to get him back on the same level as everyone else."
That Collins know the scheme inside and out, frontward and backward, is vital. Even with three Pro Bowlers in the secondary last year, the Packers allowed the fifth-most 40-yard completions in the NFL. Too often, those big plays were chalked up as communication breakdowns.
Mental errors are a sin, regardless of position, but at least a miscue by a defensive lineman can be covered up by a linebacker. If a safety makes a mental error, there's nobody behind him to save the day.
"At a certain point," Perry said, "you don't want to go 60 plays and all of a sudden, you expect someone to be where they need to be when you're counting on them when the game's on the line. Our mental errors on the back end don't even compare to the mistakes made up front, because we're the last line of defense. That's one of those details where we have to be perfect. The only way you can do that is to know what you're doing, play in and play out."
Collins has 29 training camp practices, one scrimmage and four preseason games to figure it out.
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