Falcons welcome back Jalen Collins' length vs. Panthers

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins recovered rather quickly from a knee injury, and just in time.

As the Falcons prepare to face Carolina in Saturday's key NFC South clash, Collins' return to the lineup after a one-game absence should help the defense contend with the size of the Panthers' receivers. Carolina can march out a group that includes 6-5 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, 6-4 wide receiver Devin Funchess, and 6-5 tight Greg Olsen.

Although the 6-1 Collins continues to evolve with his ball skills, he has long arms and the speed to keep up with such big targets.

"For us to have that length, it's going to be totally important," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Collins. "We were hopeful that he would make it back, but I was guarded but optimistic all week. I wanted to see him go at full speed and play. And then when you hear him say, 'Q, I'm good. I'm ready,' it gave me confidence knowing that he's ready to do his thing."

Collins took over the starting role after Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant had season-ending pectoral surgery. When the Falcons played the Panthers back in Week 4, it was the last of a four-game suspension Collins served for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

In fact, the complexion of the defense has changed since the first meeting between the Falcons and Panthers (a 48-33 Atlanta victory). Three starters from the Week 4 game -- Derrick Shelby, Sean Weatherspoon, and Trufant -- are on injured reserve.

This time, the Falcons will be without rookie linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who has a concussion. Campbell also missed the first meeting because of an ankle injury. And without Campbell in the lineup, the Falcons typically don't play as much man-to-man coverage as they would like to. Not to mention the 6-3 Campbell was drafted, in part, to match up with tight ends like Carolina's Greg Olsen.

First and foremost, the Falcons have to generate pressure against Cam Newton, who recently had a four-game stretch when he completed 48.2 percent or less of his passes while constantly under duress. Getting Adrian Clayborn back from knee surgery to rush with NFL sack-leader Vic Beasley Jr. and veteran Dwight Freeney should help the cause.

From there, the Falcons have to avoid giving up explosive plays, with those big receivers capable of getting down the field, and speedy Ted Ginn with four touchdowns of 30-plus yards -- including an 88-yarder -- over the past five games. Olsen typically is a deep threat as well.

Collins will have to be a big part of the equation, whether it's zone or man, provided his knee is fully healthy.

"He's another one who really worked hard to get back," Quinn said of Collins. "For both Jalen and for Julio (Jones), for missing a week, man they really turned it around. Ju missed two (weeks), I know, but Jalen especially really turned it around fast in terms of putting the work in to get his knee right. I was pumped for him."