With some NFL players, there exist certain pregame rituals, ones that can never be broken, no matter what. Some wear their lucky shirt or socks, which have yet to be washed. Some wear wrist tape with various sayings or Biblical verses scribbled on them in memorandum and tribute. Others listen to music blaring out of their Beats by Dre headphones to get amped up for kickoff. Alabama’s hard-charging safety, Landon Collins, has a simple remedy, one that dates back to his days as a 5-star high school recruit, and all that he needs is a smartphone.
“I watch an hour of videos on him,” Collins said.
The him he’s referring to is his fallen idol, Sean Taylor, the former Miami Hurricanes’ and Washington Redskins’ star safety who was killed in a 2007 robbery shooting at his home.
“I watch a 30-minute video, there’s a 22-minute video, a 7-minute video. There’s some of him talking. There’s a 30-for-30 I watched on him,” he said, referencing the ESPN documentary-style series.
Collins even dons the number 26 and patterns his style of play in dedication to Taylor. The 6-foot, 228-pound Collins is a true tempo-setter on the back end, whose bone-jarring, car crash hits can energize an entire defense. He says he started watching Taylor in high school, and with his aggressive, intimidating style, he very much plays the role of an extra linebacker, much like Taylor.
“I idolized Sean Taylor for his physical play, his passion for the game, you could see it every time he touched the field,” Collins said. “And I like being physical in the box.”
It was also in high school where he gained notoriety, in the 2012 Under Armour All-American game. When choosing his school, he famously chose the Crimson Tide ball cap over the LSU one, much to the chagrin of his mother.
Some of his vicious hits on YouTube will make Steelers fans reminisce about former-Steelers safety, Ryan Clark, knocking the snot out of people and he’s even been linked to the Steelers in several mock drafts, notably by ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
“There are some limitations in terms of man to man coverage but he has really good range in deep zone coverage,” Kiper said.
It is possible he may be carrying too much weight, and may be asked to trim down a bit at the next level, as he occasionally can be beat over the top, peeking into the backfield. There’s also the bad taste left in the mouths of many by recent Alabama defenders like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner.
All were hyped as elite defenders coming out in the draft, and none have lived up to their huge expectations, as many critics say they’re a byproduct of the Alabama system, where 5-star players are seemingly found at every position.
“He supports the run hard and has very good ball skills,” Kiper said. “He’s almost a weakside linebacker size and to run that speed and have the workout he had at the combine is pretty impressive.”
He posted a 4.53 in the 40 at the combine, along with a 35-inch vertical, both impressive numbers.
The last several seasons there have been some mass gains through the air versus the Pittsburgh Steelers’ suspect secondary, but making tackles is a forte of Collins, as he wraps up, explodes and drives through ball carriers, almost as if he’s taking a piece of their soul with him. With the news late Thursday evening of the retirement of stalwart safety Troy Polamalu, plus complete question marks in Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell, if Collins is on the board come pick 22, Colbert and the front office will be hard pressed to find their “best player available” in any form other than Collins. He would fill the crater-sized shoes left by the Hall Of Fame-bound Polamalu and leave Thomas and Mitchell to fill the free safety role.
Also, Collins immediately would add a physical presence a defense sorely lacking one. He can be the fiery, emotional leader that will fuel the defensive resurgence back to the league’s elite, and the Steelers’ rabid fanbase will almost certainly fall head over heels in love with his headhunting, alpha-dog mentality. There’s only one thing that won’t be occurring, and that’s Collins donning a black and gold #26 jersey.