Collins had surgery on his right foot last summer that kept him out of training camp and limited him to only five preseason snaps, but he played his way into the starting lineup as the under tackle by Week 5.
Collins finished the season ranking second on the team in sacks with five and third in QB pressures with 14.
“He just kind of grooved into it and that showed me a lot,” Marinelli said. “That’s really hard to do. He did a good job during the season, in-season and he’s a heck of a practice football player. He practices, now. I think it means the world to him to be a good player.”
There’s no question about that.
Collins, a third-round pick out of Nebraska in 2016, doesn’t have any plans between now and training camp except to get ready for the season. Even though Marinelli praised his rookie season, Collins feels he could have done more.
Collins, 22, finished with 31 tackles, including one for loss, five sacks, 14 quarterback pressures and a forced fumble in 16 games.
“I could’ve been more productive,” Collins said during the Cowboys’ minicamp. “The types of players I was around — Terrell McClain, Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford — all those guys I played around I could have played better.”
Collins is looking to get better in his sophomore season. He is the odds-on favorite to start at under tackle this season, but isn’t taking his position for granted.
The Cowboys report to training camp on July 22. Their first practice is July 24.
“Nothing is promised,” Collins said. “I’m going to keep competing as if I was at the bottom of the roster. I feel like I am in the bottom. I’m doing things every day to make sure I’m the best. That’s the nature of the game. You’ve got to be a competitor.”
Collins has studied film of other three-techniques who have thrived in Marinelli’s 4-3 Tampa 2 defense.
It starts with Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in Tampa, as well as guys such as Tommie Harris and Henry Melton, who had Pro Bowl years in Chicago. He’s also watched Anthony “Booger” McFarland, who won Super Bowls with Tampa Bay (2002) and Indianapolis (2006).
“Every play as the under tackle is yours to make,” Collins said. “You’ve got to be disruptive. It’s all about effort in this system.
“I mean, I just love the position. It’s my passion. I’ve been looking at that position since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”
That passion has shown on the field with Collins’ production early on in his career.
It makes some wonder how a guy of that ability and talent could slip to the third round. This is a league that puts high value on disruptive forces between the tackles.
It’s why some feel that one of the elite three-techs, Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald, could become the highest-paid defender in the game when he either signs an extension with the Rams or hits free agency.
Marinelli offered his thoughts on why Collins, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 311 pounds, might become a third-round steal for the Cowboys.
“Sometimes it’s height. Certain people have certain measurements that they look at,” Marinelli said. “I don’t. What’s his tape? That’s what I look at. He fit us and what we’re asking him to do.”
Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule
Aug. 3 vs. Arizona (NBC)* 7 p.m.
Aug. 12 at Los Angeles Rams (NFL Network) 8 p.m.
Aug. 19 vs. Indianapolis (NFL Network) 6 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Oakland 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Houston 7 p.m.
* Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio
Sept. 10 vs. New York Giants (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Denver (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Arizona (ESPN) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams (KDFW/4) Noon
Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Oct. 15 Bye
Oct. 22 at San Francisco (KDFW/4) 3:05 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Washington (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City (KTVT 11) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Atlanta (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 vs. LA Chargers (KTVT/11) 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Washington (KXAS/5) 7:25 p.m.
Dec. 10 at New York Giants (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Raiders (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 24 vs. Seattle (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Philadelphia (KDFW/4) Noon
Dallas Cowboys key dates
July 24: Dallas Cowboys first training camp practice, Oxnard, Calif.
Aug. 3: Hall of Fame Game: Cowboys vs. Arizona, Canton, Ohio
Aug. 5: Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Canton, Ohio
Aug. 12: Cowboys preseason game at Los Angeles Rams, 8 p.m.
Aug. 18: Cowboys break camp in Oxnard, Calif.
Aug. 19: Cowboys preseason game vs. Indianapolis, 6 p.m.
Aug. 26: Cowboys preseason game vs. Oakland, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31: Cowboys preseason game at Houston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10: Cowboys regular-season opener vs. New York Giants, 7:30 p.m.