La’el Collins wasn’t too concerned about the black eye that came with his impressive pancake block late in the Cowboys’ preseason opener Thursday at San Diego.
On a first down play in the fourth quarter, when most had probably tuned out of the game, Collins scored what he considered a touchdown as an offensive lineman.
Collins broke off the line and charged hard into Chargers linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, taking him to the ground 7 yards down the field. Collins celebrated, although he didn’t know an ensuing black eye would come as a result of the play.
“I think when I landed on top of the guy, my face went into him,” Collins said. “I started wiping the grass out of my eye. Hey, man, that comes with the game. I love it.
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“For me, that is my touchdown. I’m just trying to go out and give the best effort that I can play in and play out for my team.”
That’s the type of play why many considered Collins a first-round talent, although the LSU product ultimately went undrafted after being associated with a murder case that he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Cowboys signed Collins to a guaranteed three-year deal, and he loved the idea of joining arguably the top offensive line in the league.
Collins hasn’t worked his way into the starting lineup yet, though, as Ronald Leary has held down the starting left guard position. Leary was starting there Thursday with Collins coming in off the bench for the final three quarters.
“I’m just happy to be here, man,” Collins said. “This is a dream come true. You live every day to make that dream come true.
“I just see myself so far behind [the starters] that those guys are so advanced at what they do. For me, I come in every day with a pen and pad and write down everything that I can to help better my game. And then we just go out there every day and grind.”
Outside of the pancake block, Collins also had a nice play on Gus Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He made two blocks on that play, leaving a combination block and taking out a linebacker at the last moment to give Johnson a big enough hole to bulldoze his way into the end zone.
"I just got a really good fit on the three-technique and soon as the linebacker broke the heels of the defensive linemen, I launched off and picked up a great block," Collins said. "The back did a great job of being patient and he got up there right in the middle."
For Collins, nothing about the pro game felt that much bigger than playing in the high-profile SEC.
As he said, “I didn’t even blink, man. I felt like it was just right where I belong, just getting out there with my teammates. It was great. It felt good.”