Dallas Cowboys

Rookie Collins rushing toward bright future on Cowboys’ defense

Cowboys defensive lineman Maliek Collins is second on the team with five sacks in his rookie season.
Cowboys defensive lineman Maliek Collins is second on the team with five sacks in his rookie season. kbouaphanh@star-telegram.com

Dallas Cowboys rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins’ first big purchase came as a 15-year-old. He saved to buy a Chevrolet Caprice for $1,200, even though he needed an adult to register the car until he was old enough to obtain a license.

But Collins, with some help from his uncle, fixed it up and flipped it for a $1,000 profit.

Owner Jerry Jones would appreciate that sort of business savvy from a teenager. He’s also got to be pleased with what Collins has done on the field.

Collins, a third-round pick out of Nebraska, has developed into a solid three-technique with five sacks and 15 quarterback pressures. His emergence allowed the Cowboys to move Tyrone Crawford to left end earlier this season and really solidified the defensive line.

Every week, he just grinds away. He’s becoming really a rusher we hoped he’d be, and he’ll get better and better in there.

Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator, about Maliek Collins

“A really positive impact,” coach Jason Garrett said of Collins. “We felt like he was going to be a good fit and could transition quickly, and that’s allowed guys to move to different spots. … The combinations we have inside have been really positive for us, and Maliek has allowed us to do a lot of that.”

Collins became the starting three-technique in Week 5 against Cincinnati, and has held down that position ever since. He has the ability to switch to nose, too, and did that against Detroit on Monday when Terrell McClain exited with an injury and David Irving moved inside to the under tackle position.

But Collins projects as an under-tackle going forward and it’s one of the most important positions in Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme. It’s the position Hall of Famer Warren Sapp played during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ heyday in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

“Best position in football ’cause what else would you want to play?” Collins said, smiling. “You’ve got one rule – get off. You know what I’m saying? Disrupt. That’s the best position in football.”

This is a real talented individual ... a little more work with Marinelli and he’s going to be one of those unstoppable guys later on in his career.

Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford

Coaches and teammates feel Collins could become among the best in the league at the position.

“This is a real talented individual and I know he’s going to be up there with the Aaron Donalds and all the good under tackles in the league that people talk about,” Crawford said. “A little more work with Marinelli and he’s going to be one of those unstoppable guys later on in his career.”

Added guard Ron Leary: “He left an impression on me the first time I went against him in practice. He’s gotten better every day and takes coaching real well. I definitely see him being one of best three-techniques in this league.”

Marinelli liked how Collins responded after breaking his right foot in organized team activities in the off-season and missing several weeks of training camp.

“He’s got the work ethic you look for as a young guy,” Marinelli said. “All he does is just grind away. Every week, he just grinds away. He’s becoming really a rusher we hoped he’d be, and he’ll get better and better in there.”

Not too shabby for a guy who grew up in a rougher part of Kansas City with a single mom and two significantly older sisters (by 16 and 8 years). Collins lost his father, C.W. Collins, to a heart attack when Collins was 6 years old, but credited his mom and siblings for raising him.

We felt like he was going to be a good fit and could transition quickly, and that’s allowed guys to move to different spots.

Head coach Jason Garrett

Collins became a standout football player and wrestler at Kansas City Center High School, and was the school’s first Division-I football player when he landed a scholarship to play at the University of Nebraska.

Collins finished his three-year career with eight sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hurries. Now, he’s trying to join a long list of successful Nebraska defensive linemen to play in the NFL such as John Dutton, Neil Smith, Ron McDole, Grant Wistrom and Ndamukong Suh.

“I’m more motivated than anything ’cause I’ve got a lot of goals and aspirations of my own,” Collins said. “I’ve got those, so I’ve just got to keep working. I’ve never done enough.

“I’ll never put a ceiling on myself. I’m just going to keep working and try to be the best version of me.”

If Collins continues to excel, he won’t have to worry anytime soon about flipping cars, unless it’s just for exercise. But he’s already got his eye on his next purchase – the Ford F-150 Raptor.

With his friends at Ford, maybe Mr. Jones can steer Collins to a good deal.

 

Beat writers Clarence Hill and Charean Williams discuss the Cowboys regular season finale at Philadelphia. (Video by Drew Davison)

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

Cowboys at Eagles

noon Sunday, KDFW/4

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