The last time anybody was paying attention to Seattle tailback Alex Collins, the rookie from Arkansas fumbled on his only carry in the Seahawks’ nationally-televised 31-24 victory over New England two weeks ago.
Collins recovered his own fumble after a 2-yard gain, but the potential flub was enough for coach Pete Carroll to yank him for good.
The next time anybody saw Collins was a week later, standing on the Seahawks’ sideline. He was demoted in favor of Troymaine Pope, and was inactive for the game against Philadelphia at CenturyLink Field.
But funny things happen in the NFL: You can go from being one step out the door to one step away from being the starting running back in a flash.
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That has happened for Collins, who will back up Thomas Rawls for the showdown Sunday at Tampa Bay because of injuries to C.J. Prosise (shoulder) and Pope (ankle).
“I am looking forward to making the most of every opportunity I get — every opportunity my number is called,” Collins said.
Collins wasn’t exactly bouncing around the locker room this week in anticipation of possibly seeing the most work of his brief NFL career. In fact, he stayed mostly behind closed doors Wednesday before briefly returning to his locker.
Maybe it was by accident — or maybe it was on purpose. Collins left himself very little time to answer questions — a little more than 90 seconds — before literally being escorted to special teams meetings by assistant strength and conditioning coach Mondray Gee.
Carroll and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell noted that Collins has taken big strides in practice.
“His tempo has picked up. His understanding has picked up — his pace, his reads, his speed to the hole,” Bevell said. “I think he deserves a shot with the work that he’s been doing to be able to get in there.”
He’s going to get it.
Built in a similar mold to Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy — a big man with good feet and a violent running style — Collins became the third running back in Southeastern Conference history to open his career with three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Many NFL Draft pundits considered Collins one of the top five three-down running backs coming out last year.
Reportedly, New England showed great interest in Collins, especially since Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes skill-position talent with a lacrosse background (Collins lettered in lacrosse in high school). Plus, Collins could have been a more complete — and younger — version of LeGarrette Blount.
On draft day, he fell to the Seahawks in the fifth round, which the team considered a steal. Collins was one of four running backs Seattle signed from that draft class.
When Collins arrived for rookie minicamp, Carroll thought the Florida product was too heavy. He wanted Collins to “recondition” himself and get closer to his college playing weight of 215 pounds.
Did he change his diet? Collins nodded.
Did he do more Irish dancing? Collins chuckled. (He trained in Irish dancing before the draft to improve his footwork.)
“It was a little bit of both,” Collins said.
For whatever reason, Collins has not shown well in games. He has seen carries in six NFL games, with a season-high 12 yards against San Francisco. He scored a touchdown on a goal-line carry against Atlanta.
“Alex has made a lot of progress,” Carroll said. “He practices with great intensity every day so he’s at his best. He’s ready to go. He’s really healthy and ready for the challenge. I really feel comfortable with him fitting in our offense.”