FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Jamie Collins was a Super Bowl champion in 2014 who found himself banished to pro football's purgatory two years later as his New England Patriots marched toward another appearance in the championship game.
Now Collins is back with the Patriots, looking to reassert himself amid a talented group of linebackers following two-plus seasons with the Cleveland Browns, with whom he failed to live up to the expectations borne of a multi-million dollar contract.
After the first day of training camp on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, Collins said he sees his return as the start of a new chapter in his career.
"I'm very excited," said Collins, 29. "It's another day. It's our job, it's my job, so what it is here, whatever my job is, I have a great opportunity to be back in a position to do your job and what you're really good at. I'm very happy to be back."
Collins was the Patriots' second-round draft choice in 2013 out of Southern Mississippi, the 52nd overall selection, and he quickly established himself as an impact player. In 2014 he had a career-high 138 tackles, including 91 solo hits, as the Patriots advanced to a 28-24 victory over Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Collins earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2015, but amid concerns about his undisciplined play and speculation he would leave through free agency, the Patriots traded him to the Browns at the 2016 trade deadline for a third-round draft choice.
"That's just the league," Collins said. "That's the business. You just keep doing what you're doing, keep working and keep moving forward."
The Browns gave him a four-year, $50 million contract entering the 2017 season, but injuries sidelined him after six games. Collins started all 16 games in 2018, with 104 tackles and four sacks, but the Browns shed his huge salary when they released him this March.
Two months later, the Patriots brought Collins back to the fold. But on Thursday, Bill Belichick made it clear the veteran has to earn his keep.
"I'm hoping the same thing for every player, that they'll go out and compete, and earn whatever role they earn with the team. I can't control that for anybody," Belichick said.
To that end, Collins has not yet been given a number that's part of the convention for his position group. He wore 91 in his first tenure with the Patriots, currently worn by defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, and his Cleveland number (51) is worn by linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. Like many rookies and free agents that temporarily have been assigned unusual numbers, Collins has been issued No. 8.
Collins has figured out that hard work will be his path back into Belichick's good graces.
"We just come out here and work and do what we've got to do," the linebacker said. "It's Day 1. We don't know who's going to be where and what's going to be what. I came out here, I put my head down and I'm working. I look up at the finish line."
Collins understands there are high expectations for the Patriots' defensive unit, particularly the linebackers, and he wants to be a part of their success.
"You've got to have very high expectations," he said. "You don't want to have low expectations. If you don't have anything to work for, then what are you working for? I would say that's a very good thing to have."
Veteran linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who joined the Patriots a year before Collins, said he sees a player working to pick up where he left off.
"I like to think so," Hightower said. "He's out here, he's doing his thing, he's communicating and he's making the calls. It feels good to have him back."