Alex Collins uses Irish dancing to become NFL's most elusive runner

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Alex Collins breaks long run after long run because the Baltimore Ravens running back can elude tacklers in a way no one else in the league can.

Collins sidesteps defenders using Irish dancing moves. While some players spent the offseason boxing or doing powerlifting, Collins went all Riverdance to fine tune his footwork, timing and stamina.

He has taken what he learned in jig shoes (yes, he owns his own pair) to cleats, surprisingly emerging as the Ravens' most explosive offensive weapon and the NFL leader in yards per attempt.

"There's numerous clips from game-day action that I can pull and show the same exact footwork from my steps in Irish dance that I did out there on the field to make somebody miss," Collins said.

Collins, interestingly, turned into football's version of the Lord of the Dance on a dare. The daughter of his high school football coach, whom Collins calls his little sister, challenged him to see if Irish dance could help him prepare for the draft.

He incorporated it into his offseason workout routine last year, and let's just say the NFL prospect stood out among the teenagers in his first class.

"It was embarrassing," Collins said. "I couldn't get through warmups without breaking out in a sweat. All the kids were laughing at me."

The dreadlocked runner soon got the hang of it and was quickly hooked. Collins appreciated the strength and conditioning training aspect of repeatedly jumping and landing on his toes during each number. He saw the benefits of improving his lower body strength because every jump has to come only from the legs (your arms are always at your side).

His love of Irish dancing led to the nickname Mitchell Findley, which was inspired by Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame. It's also helped with the movement of the 210-pound running back, who is averaging an NFL-best 6.4 yards per carry.

"He does bounce," coach John Harbaugh said. "He keeps his balance after contact, and he makes yards after the hit. That is the mark of a good back. Everybody has their different style. That is his style."

Collins won't be the only known Irish dancer in the NFL, if he has any say about it. Bryanne Gatewood, the daughter of his former coach, sent him some slow-motion videos so Collins can teach his teammates some steps.

He plans to first get the running backs involved. Next, it will be the offensive linemen. This will be done with a goal in mind.

"I can just imagine 11 guys out there Irish dancing after a touchdown," Collins said with a smile.

Collins' passion for Irish dancing first appeared in Sports Illustrated last year, and his story has been featured on news channels in Ireland.

It recently resurfaced on Twitter, when a woman asked him to help out a child who was being bullied because he enjoyed Irish dancing. Collins' moving note quickly spread throughout social media.

"I just put myself in his shoes and just spoke from the heart to let him know that you may face some adversity in life but never let that stop you from doing what you want to do," Collins said. "You fight through it. And you keep pushing hard. That was the message I was trying to get across to him."

Collins' short time in the NFL has been all about perseverance. A fifth-round pick by Seattle last year, he was cut by the Seahawks on Sept. 2, just before the start of the regular season. He signed with Baltimore's practice squad in Week 1 and was promoted to the 53-man roster the following week.

Collins quickly worked himself up the depth chart past Terrance West and Buck Allen, making his first NFL start earlier this month. Fumbling twice in his first three games with Baltimore put him on "a short leash," according to Harbaugh.

But Collins has been the top playmaker on what has been a plodding Ravens offense. Since Week 3, he has been the seventh-leading rusher in the league, averaging 73.2 yards per game.

"He's been doing well since the day he got here," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's got a little speed. He's got a little quickness. He's got instincts. He's a sharp kid. He's hard-working. He prepares well. So with hard work and preparation now, he can get this thing done pretty well."

It appears Collins is working his way up the ranks of NFL running backs one (Irish dance) step at a time.