ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Football Team safety Landon Collins heard the timetable doctors gave him for his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon in October 2020. He just didn’t listen. They said it would take nine to 12 months. He said he would come back sooner.
Seven months later, he was running drills with the team in the spring. Two months after that, he was in training camp taking every rep, looking like a guy with something to prove.
Collins, entering the third year of a six-year contract, says there’s a reason he didn’t take a day off during his rehab; why he made sure not to come back overweight and put added stress on his Achilles; why he had a trainer with him always. He worked out in New Jersey; he worked out in Louisiana as part of former NFL safety and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark’s DB Precision.
“I want to prove that I am the best safety always on the field and around the league,” Collins said. “I have done it before and I can do it again. That is what they brought me here for.”
Washington gave him a deal worth up to $84 million. In 2019, he played his typical game — creating problems in the run game in particular.
Last season, playing in another new defense, coach Ron Rivera said Collins started slow and just when he started to make more of an impact, he tore his Achilles on Oct. 27.
In his place, 2020 rookie Kamren Curl played well, drawing praise for his maturity and ability to make plays. Collins would have counted $26.3 million against the salary cap if released, and no team was going to trade for a player coming off such an injury, who also has a base salary of $12.5 million this season.
Not that Washington was in a hurry to move on from Collins.
“There’s a physicality he brings,” Rivera said. “There’s that physical presence. He is a playmaker of sorts because he plays downhill.”
“That pressure is always on me. … Does it bother me to have to live up to it? Yes, I took that pressure every day,” Collins said. “It is something that I live up to. It’s something that I walk into that stadium with a smile on my face because it is on my back. Pressure breaks pipes, but I am a strong pipe, I can promise you that.”
It’s still unclear who will start at strong safety for Washington, but Collins has stood out. Washington has rotated its safeties, pairing Collins and Curl, with the latter playing free safety. Other times, Bobby McCain plays free safety with Collins or Curl alongside him. They can also group them together in various looks.
Collins, who has taken reps with the second unit as well, also can play safety in some of their nickel packages, in which he has some linebacker responsibilities — much like Curl did when both were healthy last season.
During camp, there have been multiple passes in which Collins drove hard on the ball to break up a pass. In one red zone drill last week, that drive resulted in an interception. Sometimes he has had to sprint from 5 to 10 yards back, but because of how he read the play, he arrived in time to win.
“Just that energy [Collins] has, that excitement he has to be back out there,” Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “That’s what he brings, that mentality. He’s not scared to make a play.”
Collins says he feels incredible being back on the field, “Way better than before. I feel stronger, faster, in shape, just doing my thing. I’m back on the field and I’m happy now.”
During the spring, when he was limited to position drills, Collins would stand well beyond the play with defensive backs coach Chris Harris and shout out instructions, tips or encouragement. Being back there allowed him to process the play differently, but it was also indicative of Collins’ growth in the defense.
“He has come in with a different resolve,” Rivera said. “There was some hesitation in terms of picking it up [last year]. You did see some of the really good moments last year until he got hurt. He’s picking up where he left off.”
Collins watched film during his recovery, pondering how he would react on a play. He said it slowed his mind down, allowing him to feel better when he returned.
“When you’re not on the field, you could lose it. Getting on the field, you could be kind of antsy,” Collins said. “My first day, we had our physicals on the first day. I had butterflies in my stomach. That was the first time I had butterflies for camp in a long time.”
Part of a safety’s job is to communicate to those in front of him. Collins is not the only one who does so, but his experience (81 career starts) and knowledge is a strength. In the spring, Collins said because of that knowledge, had he played in the playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, some plays might have been handled differently.
“He’s a natural leader,” cornerback William Jackson III said. “He’s just a smart player, and I’m just soaking up everything that he knew about the defense. He’s getting me on the same page as far as us all doing it as one and having fun.”