Bears' Collins faces tough competition for roster spot

  • For Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins, here celebrating after a sack last season, his future with the team could hinge on his play in preseason games.

    For Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins, here celebrating after a sack last season, his future with the team could hinge on his play in preseason games. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/30/2014 5:38 AM

BOURBONNAIS -- For a guy whose only previous surgery was a tonsillectomy, Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins has done an amazing job recovering from a torn ACL.

The 26-year-old Collins is just nine months removed from the surgery on his left knee that ended what began as a promising 2013 season.


The 6-foot-2, 296-pound Collins hasn't quite matched the superhuman bounce-back speed that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson exhibited in his ACL recovery. But considering that -- pre-A.P. -- the standard ACL rehab was about a year, Collins is well ahead of schedule.

Anyone who expected that training camp would see Collins gradually working his way back to where he was last October, when he made the first two starts of his four-year career, would have been shocked.

In 1-on-1 pass-rush drills Sunday, the former undrafted rookie out of Virginia bull-rushed veteran Dylan Gandy and 320-pound rookie Ryan Groy, driving both offensive linemen five yards off the line of scrimmage.

"I'm not surprised because I had Nate in Jacksonville, and I know how he works," said Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator during Collins' first two years in the league. "He takes his rehab very seriously, and he's got a lot of pride."

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Collins' future with the Bears may hinge on performing at peak efficiency in preseason games, which begin Aug. 8. Making the team will be a greater challenge this year because the D-line talent has been upgraded.

Last year the defense was thin at tackle. Henry Melton's season-ending torn ACL in Week 3 thrust Collins into the starting lineup, where he performed well for two weeks until injury felled him as well.

Bad timing for sure, but Collins' personal pity party never got going.

"Once I knew that I tore my ACL, I told myself I had to get my mind ready," he said. "It's one of those things. I got hurt; there's nothing I could do about it. I can (complain) and moan about it and sit around and be hurt and be upset and make myself miserable, or I can make the best of it.

"I knew it was going to be a long process, but (football) is what I love to do and what I'm going to do hopefully for the next 10 years, maybe more."


This year Collins is fighting for a roster spot on a Bears team that is well-stocked at tackle.

Jeremiah Ratliff is back, and he appears close to 100 percent after joining the Bears last November following groin surgery. Veteran Stephen Paea also returns, and the Bears used their second- an third-round draft picks earlier this year on tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.

"It's nothing new to me, this situation that I'm in," Collins said. "But I just love the grind. I have to get up every day and try to get better, little by little. Before you know it, it's season time. By then everything will be worked out.

"Whether I'm here or somewhere else, whatever happens, I'm going to give it my all every day. So, when it does come down, I won't feel any type of (regret) if things don't go the way I think they should go or I want them to go.

"Either way, it'll all work out."

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