Falcons' Jalen Collins: Depth chart drop 'ain't nothing to be down about'

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- No one expected Jalen Collins to retain his starting job from the end of last season, not with one-time Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant back from a pectoral injury.

But many believed Collins, a 2015 second-round draft pick from LSU, would remain in a backup cornerback role for the Atlanta Falcons going into 2017, considering he started the Super Bowl in place of Trufant.

Such hasn't been the case through the first five practices of training camp, and it's somewhat mysterious. During Tuesday's padded practice, Collins found himself on the field opposite undrafted rookie cornerback Jarnor Jones and lined up to cover undrafted rookie receiver Reginald Davis III. Collins was running with the third-string defense in this particular 11-on-11 drill, going against an offense directed by fourth-string quarterback and undrafted rookie Alek Torgersen.

And to think, Collins was on the field contending with Tom Brady about six months ago.

"Of course, it sucks," Collins told ESPN regarding his drop down the depth chart. "Everyone wants to be out there flying around and competing and stuff. But at the same time, it's not all about me. It's about my brothers and just trying to help those guys.

"It ain't nothing to be down about. ... I don't feel like it's a situation where they don't believe in me or don't trust me or anything like that. They're just trying to give everybody else some extra reps; guys that haven't been in situations like that."

Collins' defensive reps have been limited to start camp, and his reps with the bottom of the roster players have been definitely noticeable. Trufant and Robert Alford are the starters, and C.J. Goodwin and Deji Olatoye have been the two typically running with the second team. Akeem King, who was injured last season, has shown up more than Collins. And even starting nickelback Brian Poole has seen more reps outside at corner than Collins on certain days.

So what exactly is going on with Collins? Is he in the doghouse with the coaches for some reason?

"He's not getting as many [reps], and that's just from a coaching decision," coach Dan Quinn said. "There might be days when he gets more. So for me, we've got [18] guys back there. We're trying to work it all the way through. For me, tomorrow, it could be different."

Is Collins being disciplined for violating team or NFL rules? Remember, he came to the Falcons with some red flags after failing three drug tests at LSU. Once with the team, Collins was suspended without pay for the first four games of his second season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Teams don't talk about whether a player failed a drug test, at least not publicly. The NFL office sends out news releases announcing suspensions related to such violations.

"It's nothing like that," Collins said, insisting no such trouble has led to his demotion. "It's strictly just trying to get guys with a little less experience, trying to get those guys their reps."

Collins mentioned multiple times, "I've been in this situation before." He was heavily criticized after starting just two games as a rookie despite talk of him having first-round talent. The Falcons raved about the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Collins' length and overall playmaking ability, but it didn't show up during his disappointing first year.

Then last year, Collins showed signs of promise after Trufant went down nine games into the season. Collins started six games during the regular season and had two interceptions. Then he started all three playoff games, although he regressed in a 34-28 overtime Super Bowl loss to New England.

There have been no whispers about the Falcons giving up on Collins or seeking to trade him. The preseason games might give him a chance to work his way back up the depth chart, whether that means making a splash play on defense or excelling on special teams.

Collins was asked if he expects to be on the 53-man roster to start the regular season.

"Yeah," he said. "I know everybody's out here trying to get better, and I know Coach has the team's best interest at hand. I'm just out here trying to help as much as I can.''

Quinn talked about where Collins needs to improve moving forward.

"From Jalen, we're always going to challenge him and play him outside quite a bit," Quinn said, "and so playing at the line of scrimmage and playing really aggressive there. And then finding his role on [special] teams, where he's a gunner. ... He's off to a good start. We're not down on him."