Dad would be proud.
Willie James Collins Sr. died in May. He was Nick Collins' mentor, his sounding board and a rock in his life.
Through it all — his dad's fight with cancer, his passing and Nick's desire for a new contract — Collins remains intent on showing last year's breakout season was no fluke.
And he doesn't really care what you or I have to say.
"Y'all are on the outside looking," Collins said. "That's y'all's job. Y'all going to do you're job. That's what y'all get paid to do is start a story and let everybody read it and people feed off it. But I don't worry about that. I can't control that."
If reading that makes Collins sound defensive or bitter, far from it. He says it all with an easy and relaxed smile and with ample patience to satisfy each of his questioners.
Collins, coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he and Charles Woodson tied for the NFC lead with seven interceptions, received something of a black eye this offseason. While Collins sat out the voluntary practices, Greg Jennings was a regular participant — even though both were looking for new contracts.
Jennings was celebrated as a team-first player. Collins was said to be selfish by some for seemingly being upset with the $3 million-plus he's set to earn in this, the final year of his contract.
"I knew there was going to be some talk, but nobody knows what I was going through," he said. "So, let 'em talk. I'm not worrying about that. I'm here now. I'm here with the team."
Collins is coming off a season that will be difficult to repeat. Only 12 players in the famed history of this franchise have ever had more than seven interceptions, including only Darren Sharper in the last 20 years. There's a chance Collins could have a better season in 2009 without quite the big-play impact. No doubt, some of the critics would look at the numbers and point to Collins' absence in the spring as the prime reason.
"You can't control what people are going to say," said Collins, adding that he has no regrets about how he handled the offseason. "We've just got to go out there and just play ball and don't worry about that. Everything else will take care of itself. You know what you did for the team, for this organization. That's the only thing that matters. If you perform, you'll have no regrets."
Collins' reasoning is simple. Neither his teammates nor coaches are holding a grudge. Collins spent time in Arizona working out with Ryan Grant and several other NFL stars. While he wasn't practicing in May, it wasn't like his playbook was being used as a coaster or collecting dust on some neglected table. He maintains that the switch in schemes has been overblown. It's still tackling and making plays, he says.
"These guys know what I can do," he said. "Some of these guys, I've played with for four years. Everybody knows what I can do to help this team. Everybody trusts me. My main focus is just do what I have to do, regardless of the circumstance. If you like me, you like me. If you don't, oh well, I can't control that. I'm just going to go out there and play ball. I've been playing since I was 6. I know the game."
That's for sure. Collins has three interceptions during 11-on-11 periods in the first nine practices of training camp and should have had a fourth on Friday. Each was a superlative combination of athleticism, smarts and instincts — just like most of his interceptions last season.
So much for being distracted about his contract or not knowing where he was supposed to be on the field.
"I've never seen a distracted Nick Collins," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Even in his time here in the spring, Nick is about business. He just needs those reps. He knows what it looks like and understands what he's supposed to do from the book, and he'll pass all those tests. He's like any other player. You need live reps. You need the communication when the bullets are flying and the tight end is moving and they're shifting and motioning and all that. And that's what he's getting. He's an exceptional player back there. He's shown you what he's all about from the number of plays he's already made in camp."
That Collins is playing so well this summer is a bit of a surprise — even though it shouldn't be. And not because he missed 11 of the 12 organized team activities to fall behind in the transition to the new defensive scheme. Losing his dad was obviously a hard blow.
"He was my coach on and off the field," Collins said. "The day after, I'd call him and be like, ‘Oh, man, it was a great day, I had a pick.' He'd say, ‘Good job.' We watched game film together and he'd tell me, ‘Oh, you did this wrong.' He was my biggest critic."
Collins pauses to compose himself before adding: "It's just a blessing that he's still here with me. I just carry him on the field with me."
Fortunately for Collins, his dad was here to watch his biggest moments as a pro, from being named the Packers' rookie of the year and to the NFL's all-rookie team in 2005 to his Pro Bowl performance last season.
"The only thing I didn't do was win the Super Bowl," Collins said. "He wasn't able to see that but I was so close. He was right there. It's a blessing, man."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.