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Landon Collins, Eli Manning prepare to tackle Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys during a

Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys during a preseason game at AT&T Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Ronald Martinez

Landon Collins spent all of last season as a rookie. He was the player veteran quarterbacks and receivers targeted and picked on, the one who almost always felt a step behind the pace and was second-guessing his own decisions.

Now, as Collins begins his second season in the NFL as a starting safety for the Giants, he gets an opportunity right off the bat to make someone else feel that way.

That someone is Dak Prescott.

“I didn’t think of it like that,” Collins told Newsday on Monday when the flip-flopped dynamic was pointed out. And you could tell by his grin and chuckle soon after that once he did think about it, he liked it.

“We’re not going to pick on him,” he said, “but we’re going to do our best to disrupt him and put pressure on him and make him throw mistakes.”

With Tony Romo sidelined by a back injury and Mark Sanchez only a few hours into digesting the Cowboys’ playbook, Prescott seems to be the most likely starting quarterback for Dallas against the Giants on Sunday.

“Dak is a winner,” Ben McAdoo said. “He’s won everywhere he’s been. He has taken advantage of his opportunities in the preseason and it’ll be a challenge for us.”

While he hasn’t aged any more than usual in the last few weeks, it would be natural for Eli Manning to feel a bit older now that his division has two rookies starting at quarterback: Prescott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Manning won his first Super Bowl in January 2008. Prescott and Wentz were both high school freshmen that season. When Manning was drafted in April 2004, the two quarterbacks were fifth-graders.

“Obviously that happens and you have some rookies playing quarterback,” Manning said of the age difference in his competition. “It doesn’t affect me so much.”

Rookie quarterbacks beginning their career as a starter is a relatively new phenomenon. It used to be only the special ones got that opportunity — Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman — and typically the first year ended with poor results. That started to change a bit in the past few years, most notably with Joe Flacco leading the Ravens to the playoffs in 2008. Sanchez, ironically, also was part of that wave of quarterbacks who jumped from college to a starting NFL job and found early success. The trend since has included Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr. And now Prescott and Wentz.

“I think colleges are doing more offensively and a lot more passing and concepts, so maybe that’s probably giving them a little bit of an advantage coming in,” said Manning, who had to wait until midway through his rookie season to start. “They know a lot about protections and change in protections and maybe a little more pro-style.”

True. But they’re still rookies.

“Everything is fast, everything is up-tempo,” Collins said of being a sometimes overwhelmed first-year player. “It’s the first game and everybody is excited and coming after the ball. I know how it is.”

Collins may have more NFL experience, but at 22, he’s actually a year younger than Prescott. They faced each other in college, too, when Collins was at Alabama and Prescott at Mississippi State.

“He’s a dual quarterback,” Collins said. “He has a great arm, a powerful arm. He has great vision down the field. And he’s also got good feet, he can take off at any moment.”

Now, Collins said, he’s “excited for him” and curious to see how it all translates on this big stage.

“Coming from college and jumping into the starting position for the Dallas Cowboys, I mean, it’s crazy for him,” Collins said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do.”


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