Landon Collins entered this season with such high expectations for himself. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, he was looking to advance to the next strata of players, the ones who are regularly in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, who are penciled in on All-Pro ballots, and whose play can will an entire team to victory. He spoke about playing at a “gold jacket” level, about striving to eclipse even Lawrence Taylor as the greatest Giants defender of all time.
It hasn’t happened yet.
“It’s starting off slow,” Collins told Newsday when asked to describe his 2017 campaign through the first six weeks. “You can’t expect it to be like it was last year.”
He and just about everyone else did. And maybe he still can. Because at this point last year, Collins was still a decent but mostly anonymous player who had yet to start making the impact plays by which his sophomore year in the NFL would be defined. He was the only player in the NFL who finished 2016 with five or more interceptions and four or more sacks, but after six games last year his numbers were pretty pedestrian. Two of his four sacks and all five of his interceptions came in Weeks 7 through 17.
The interception he recorded last week against the Broncos, in other words, may wind up lighting the fuse on another such run of impact plays.
“We’ll see,” Collins said. “I don’t want to jinx it, though.”
His teammates are less superstitious and more willing to project Collins’ upcoming production.
“With him, he always has that impact player inside of him,” fellow safety Darian Thompson said. “There’s no telling when it’s going to explode. I’m excited for him. He looks like he’s getting very comfortable. We’re excited for him.”
Said another safety, Nat Berhe, thinking back to the game in Week 7 of last year when Collins’ two interceptions against the Rams in London thrust him into a new category of conversation: “He exploded. And I don’t see why he can’t do it again.”
This would be a good week for that to happen. The Seahawks are coming to MetLife Stadium, and they have a secondary that Collins always has admired. While his skill set is more similar to that of Kam Chancellor, he has a closer relationship with Earl Thomas. The two have trained during the offseason, and it was at a camp run by Thomas last summer that the Seahawk asked a group of young up-and-coming NFL safeties who among them would be taking his place at the top of the safety hierarchy in the coming years.
Collins raised his hand boldly. At the end of last season, it seemed as if he was ready to dethrone the top safety in the NFL.
“Week in and week out I’m trying to,” Collins said. “He’s still at the top of his game and still playing great ball. I’m trying to stay up there with him and get ahead of him if I can.”
Collins is still nursing an ankle injury that forced him to play less than 90 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in a game for the first time in his career against the Broncos. It was also the first game of his NFL career without a tackle. The ankle, he said, is feeling much better and on Sunday he’ll have a chance to show his mentor what he can do.
“I get to showcase my skills right in front of his own eyes so it’s going to be big for me,” Collins said. “It’s something big to live up to.”
So, too, are Collins’ own expectations. And his own past successes.
“If I play my job week in and week out, it’s all going to come together,” said Collins, still confident that he can make the leap he anticipated when the season began. “I got my first interception, so just build on top of that.”
Just like last year.
No practice for Vernon. Defensive end Oliver Vernon seemingly took a step backward on his path to play Sunday when he did not participate in Thursday’s practice. He has not played in a game since aggravating his ankle injury in the first half of the Oct. 1 game against the Bucs, but he did practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Vernon was not spotted in the Giants’ locker room on Thursday. Asked if Vernon suffered a setback in practice, coach Ben McAdoo said only that he “stayed inside to get treatment” during Thursday’s workout.