Football briefs: Packers’ Collins credits film study for improved play

Staff reports

The Way We Hear It

The Packers’ defense has had its share of problems so far this season. But one position that has never been stronger is the free safety spot, which has been handled masterfully by fourth-year pro Nick Collins despite persistent back problems.

Collins has three interceptions, one fewer than he had his first three seasons combined, and he is finally living up to the steady playmaking promise that he had only flashed on occasion before this season.

For one thing, Collins is doing a much better job this season of holding on to passes, a big problem previously. This season he has displayed excellent hands and done a great job of diagnosing plays.

The way we hear it — straight from Collins’ mouth in a recent phone interview — film study has been the key to his noticeable improvement.

“I have taken a lot more time to study film,” Collins told PFW. “I watch film regularly with the veteran guys (CBs Charles Woodson and Al Harris, the latter currently out with a spleen injury). They let me know how to read the routes of the different receivers we’re going to be facing, and I’ve been doing a great job of picking up on things.”

Collins said Woodson, in particular, deserves a major assist for his newfound success.

“Oh, man, he’s been just like an older brother to me,” Collins said of Woodson, who has been providing further inspiration due to the fact that he, too, is gutting it out at less than full strength with a broken toe suffered in Week One. “He’s always there to correct me when I make a mistake and to offer me encouragement when I do something good. He’s always trying to bring out the best in me.”

As for his back, Collins said it could continue to be a problem but that it’s something he can manage.

“I think I’m going to have to deal with it for the rest of the year,” Collins said. “Hopefully the bye week (Week Eight) will calm things down a bit. A little injury isn’t going to stop me. I’m a warrior. Our trainers are doing a nice job of getting me ready every Sunday.”

Nobody puts more work into getting ready for games than Collins, who has earned a reputation as a devoted note taker.

“It’s something I’ve been doing since my rookie year,” he said. ”Not just for me, but also to help out the younger guys.”

NFL Whispers

EAGLES: WR DeSean Jackson still needs refinement as a receiver. Despite his nice start, Jackson, team sources say, has a tendency to run sloppy routes and round off his patterns too much in an offense that expects him to be more precise. Though his production has been better to date than any other rookie receiver under Andy Reid, Jackson must continue to get better at the finer points, because he’s costing his team first downs when QB Donovan McNabb can’t find an open receiver.

SAINTS: Sources in New Orleans don’t expect RB Pierre Thomas to be heavily involved in the Saints’ offense for the rest of this season, barring an injury. Thomas has remained on kickoff-return duty, but his time in the backfield has declined since Deuce McAllister took on a greater role in the offense in Week Four. Word is head coach Sean Payton does not like to game-plan for three running backs, and for now, Reggie Bush and McAllister are Nos. 1 and 2. Thomas has a future with the team, we hear, but he may be stuck in the backseat the rest of this season.

CHIEFS: We hear the Chiefs have been pleasantly surprised by the play of OLT Herb Taylor, who has been filling in for the injured Branden Albert. In fact, once Albert returns, the team is considering moving Taylor to right tackle, where he would supplant Damion McIntosh in the starting lineup.

The Fantasy Buzz

With Colts RB Joseph Addai going down in the first quarter last Sunday with a hamstring injury and not returning, Dominic Rhodes suddenly becomes a very valuable fantasy asset. He racked up 73 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against the Ravens, and although 38 of those yards came on one scamper, he still put forth a decent effort considering the opponent. With Addai’s status unknown at this point, Rhodes should be your top waiver-wire priority this week, as he’d be a viable fantasy play if he starts.

If someone didn’t grab Broncos RB Michael Pittman before his outing last Sunday, he’ll be a hot commodity this coming week. Filling in for the injured Selvin Young, Pittman had 20 carries for 109 yards and added three catches for 16 yards against the Jaguars. With Young’s status up in the air for Week Seven, Pittman could be in line for another start and definitely would be a solid fantasy option. In addition, he also has a nose for the endzone, with four TDs already on the season.

It might be difficult to find a taker, but Cardinals WR Steve Breaston is a great guy to trade as soon as possible. He has put together three straight productive outings, catching 24 passes for 301 yards and a TD, but that streak of success is likely to end soon. With WR Anquan Boldin due back after the team’s Week Seven bye, Breaston can expect to resume the No. 3 receiver role, which won’t be as conducive to big stats. If you make a reasonable offer, someone might take Breaston off your hands when his value is at its highest.

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