BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears underwent a mini-makeover at defensive tackle in the offseason when the club failed to bring back veterans Anthony Adams and Amobi Okoye, and instead decided to sign the trio of John McCargo, DeMario Pressley and Nate Collins in an attempt to provide depth at the position.
The Bears then obtained Brian Price from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a seventh-round pick, which added another body into the mix as the reserves battle it out for the available roster spots behind front line players Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and Stephen Paea.
While Price has received his share of attention since he began practicing in pads on Tuesday, it’s Collins who has emerged as perhaps the teams' best backup three-technique defensive tackle after incumbent starter Melton.
At 6-foot-2 and 296 pounds, the athletic Collins has been tough to miss during one-on-one individual pass rushing drills where he's displayed the ability to consistently get off the ball and get up field.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can. This is my third defense in three years," Collins said. "Coach Rod Marinellli is doing a great job. He's a wonderful coach who has coached a lot of great defensive tackles. I'm just trying to absorb as much as I can from him and the guys around me.
"There are certainly more things I can work in, for instance I get my pads up too high sometimes, but he [Marinelli] tells me to come to work everyday with a tool box and he wants me to be able to pull different things out of the tool box like different moves and counters to try and maximize everything I can do with my size and speed at three-technique. They let their defensive tackles go up the field here and that's something I can do. You always want to play in a system where you feel you have a chance to rush the passer and get after it. That's what they do here, and I'm just grateful to be here and grateful they took a chance on me. I'm just trying to make this team."
Originally an undrafted free agent out of the University of Virginia, Collins spent a chunk of the 2010 season on the New York Giants practice squad before being signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars active roster in November of that year. Collins eventually appeared in 13 games for the Jaguars over the last two years and recorded 10 tackles, half a sack and a fumble recovery.
In February, Collins was reportedly arrested for marijuana possession in Warrenton, Va. Less than a month later, he got released by Jacksonville and was unsigned until he was picked up by the Bears in late May.
Five days before the Bears reported to training camp the NFL announced that Collins would be suspended without pay for the first game of the regular season. He will also have to forfeit an additional game check.
The question now becomes if Collins' inevitable one-game suspension will jeopardize his chances of earning a spot on the Bears' final 53-man roster.
"It's not hanging over my head," Collins said of the suspension. "It's a situation that's over and done with now. I can only focus on things that I can control which is to get up everyday, get ready to work and show the coaches and everybody involved with the Chicago Bears that no matter what happens, if I do make the team, that they're going to know that when I am able to play that I'm going to give it my all every snap."