'All eyes are on you': Jamie Collins understands J.C. Jackson's unique return to Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Jackson’s return: The session had already started Thursday when cornerback J.C. Jackson arrived to practice with the Patriots for the first time since 2021. He jogged about halfway up the sideline and then picked a spot to insert himself into a warmup drill.

Having signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Jackson spent his first four seasons with the Patriots before joining the Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent in 2022. On Wednesday, the Chargers agreed to traded him back to New England.

If anyone could understand what Jackson was going through in that unusual moment, it was linebacker Jamie Collins Sr.

“Going to a new team in the middle of the week, and practicing and preparing to play, all eyes are on you,” said Collins, who told ESPN on Friday he is retiring. “Your teammates are looking at you. Your coaches are looking at you. Everybody wants to see how you adjust. It depends who you are and how you take things, but that can be hard.”

Nearly two years to the day before Jackson was reintroducing himself to life in New England, Collins had done the same -- rejoining New England on Oct. 6, 2021 after the Detroit Lions released him. Collins crammed to prepare for that week’s game against the Houston Texans and was inserted into the game plan as a reserve and special teamer.

The Patriots (1-3) would benefit if Jackson -- acquired along with a 2025 seventh-round pick from the Chargers in exchange for a 2025 sixth-round pick -- could pull off something similar when they host the New Orleans Saints (2-2) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Coach Bill Belichick hinted that Jackson will play in a game the Patriots badly need to win. Considering the dire situation at cornerback due to injuries, it wouldn’t be shocking if Jackson has a considerable role.

Collins projected that Belichick was likely assessing how Jackson handled the unique mental challenge of reintroducing himself to the playbook.

“That’s a tough part of it,” Collins said. “For me, I had to learn a brand-new defensive scheme in Detroit, and you’re coming back to your old team in the middle of the week, and they’re asking you to forget all that.

“But then, once I got out there, being in that system for so long, it was like muscle memory. It sort of felt like I never left, especially when I heard the same [coaching] voices talking -- [Jerod] Mayo, Bill [Belichick], Steve [Belichick]. I was in the playbook and it was like, ‘I remember this!’”

Still, Collins recalls that there was no guarantee he would play that week.

“It was more of a ‘let’s see how it goes.’ I had to prove a few things and me, and Bill had a little inside thing going. He was trying to test me to see where I’m at,” he said. “I’d never back down from something like that. You have to prove that you’re ready and built for it.”

Collins, who played with Jackson in 2019 and 2021, believes Jackson is built for it.

“He got his nickname ‘Mr. INT’ for a reason,” he said of Jackson, who totaled 17 interceptions in his final two seasons in New England. “Obviously, it didn’t work out [with the Chargers] the way he wanted it to work out, but he’s back where he was molded to be great and that can be comforting, too, because you’re familiar with the place and all the people -- from the coaches, to upstairs [in the front office] and the cafeteria.

“It’s almost like being a kid all over again. You tell your parents you’re leaving the house, and next thing you know, you’re walking back through the door and saying, ‘I’m home!’”

2. Trade timing: The Patriots and Chargers had agreed to terms on the Jackson trade early Wednesday morning, but the deal couldn’t be finalized until Thursday. The reason is that the Chargers had restructured Jackson’s contract to turn base salary into a signing bonus, and a player can’t be traded on the same day his contract is restructured.

3. More takeaways: One stat that isn’t sitting well with the Patriots’ defense -- two takeaways in four games. “Have to find ways to get the ball out and get the ball in our hands,” captain Deatrich Wise Jr. said.

The low total has contributed to the team’s minus-5 turnover differential, which has them in a hole and threatens one of the most impressive streaks in recent memory: The Patriots have finished with a positive turnover differential in 17 straight seasons, the longest run in NFL history, according to Elias.

4. Reiff’s return: Veteran tackle/guard Riley Reiff, who was projected to start at right tackle to open the season, was signed to the Patriots’ 53-man roster Saturday after missing the first four games with a knee injury. The Patriots need the help -- per ESPN Analytics/NFL Next Gen Stats, they have a pass block win rate of 39.7%.

PBWR rate measures the rate at which offensive linemen sustain their blocks for at least 2.5 seconds, and the 39.7% ranks last in the NFL and is on pace to be the worst in any season since PBWR began in 2017 (out of 224 teams).

5. Zeke’s week?: Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (thigh) was limited all week in practice, which highlighted why the team signed veteran Ezekiel Elliott in August as an insurance plan. Stevenson is expected to play, a source told ESPN's Dan Graziano, but the injury could alter his workload (he's played 194 snaps compared to Elliott's 99). Regardless of how it unfolds, Elliott hopes the Patriots’ running game will come alive (28th in NFL, 3.4-yard average).

“I feel like, as a running back, the more touches you get, the better you’re going to get,” he said. “We’ve been playing from behind so much, we haven’t been able to grind out a team.”

6. White’s energy: Rookie defensive end/outside linebacker Keion White’s stone-faced reaction to being selected in the second round by the Patriots became a meme, but it’s also true to his personality. He’s all business.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pound White will be tapped to help fill the void created by Matthew Judon’s torn biceps injury -- Mayo, the linebackers coach, said White will play more -- but don’t expect him to try to duplicate Judon’s juice.

“I don’t know if anybody noticed, but I’m not a big energy guy,” he said, drawing a chuckle from reporters.

7. They said it: “I think they’re fixable problems. Some of it is the art of keeping [quarterback] Mac Jones’ confidence high, as people are unsettled about him. At the same time, it's bringing him down to earth and saying, ‘You’re not Lamar Jackson, so know when to say when on a play.'” – former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, on early growing pains for the Patriots’ offense

8. Separation anxiety: Bill Belichick noted this week that rookie receiver Demario Douglas has shown a knack for getting open against man coverage, which could be a tipoff that Douglas’ playing time will be increasing. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Patriots receivers average the least amount of separation on targets in the NFL (3.1 yards), and yet Douglas is averaging just 18.5 snaps per game. Furthermore, Jones is seeing man coverage at the highest rate of any QB in the NFL (59%), per ESPN Analytics/NFL Next Gen Stats.

9. Did you know? Part I: Through Week 4, the Patriots were one of three teams to use a different starting offensive line combination in every game. The Bears and Lions are the other teams.

10. Did you know? Part II: The Patriots have been outscored 38-0 off turnovers this season, which is the worst point differential in the NFL. They allowed 37 points off turnovers all last season, and their plus-77 points-off-turnover differential led the NFL.