Versatility makes Collins an intriguing piece

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will have a new chess piece to play with on defense next season in former Southern Miss linebacker/defensive end Jamie Collins.

A high school quarterback who began his college career as a 212-pound safety, Collins didn't play defensive end until his senior season, when he tallied 10 sacks.

"I never thought sacking the quarterback would feel so good," Collins said Friday after being selected. "It just gives you a chance to pop a play."

It remains to be seen whether Collins, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, will play much with his hand in the dirt in New England. While he could lack the size to match up consistently against NFL offensive tackles, he is still willing to mix it up in the trenches.

"It's different going up against those big guys every play when you've played safety and you have to bang with those big guys. But it was fun," Collins said. "I just wasn't comfortable doing it, just being like finesse with the blocks and stuff. There isn't anything better than going up against big guys like that over and over and over, wearing those big guys out."

Instead, his background as a safety and his excellent athleticism -- he led his position group in five tests at the NFL scouting combine -- might suggest that he steps in as a sub package linebacker next to Jerod Mayo, while remaining a threat to rush the quarterback.

"My speed and my athletic ability, just the natural raw talent, just to do things that I have to do to get to the quarterback," Collins said. "You have a lot of mobility and there's a lot more things you can use as a defensive end, just because you played safety. I feel like I can use those to my advantage."

Last season, Collins had 20 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles in addition to his 10 sacks.

"I had a couple strips on the quarterback and a lot of punches taking plays from behind," Collins said. "I feel like turnovers are the most important thing for a defense. You need turnovers to get the ball back to the offense."

After taking defenders from two major programs in the last draft (Chandler Jones from Syracuse and Dont'a Hightower from Alabama), the Patriots dipped into the basement of Conference USA for their first pick this season.

"I felt like I had to play hard every game just because we were losing," Collins said. "I felt like that was going to draw a lot of attention to me to see how I played, despite that we went 0-12."

As a sophomore, Collins' coach asked him to play gunner on the punt unit, a position generally reserved for defensive backs and wide receivers.

In March, Patriots coach Bill Belichick visited Hattiesburg, Miss., where he met with Collins.

"We talked. We talked a lot and watched some film," Collins said. "He was a great guy."