METAIRIE, La. — Take one look at the way Jed Collins plays and it’s hard to believe that at one point in his professional career, he wasn’t a fan of having to block linebackers or defensive ends.
The Saints’ bruising, physical fullback was intimidated by them, not big on their loud, brash ways.
“You hit them and it’s an even block but they walk away and it sounds like they beat you 10 times worse,” Collins said. “My first year or two it was definitely getting over the intimidation.”
“It was a challenge to tell myself mentally that I no longer had to be intimidated by these linebackers that you hear so much about and know that they’re human and when I hit them, they hurt as badly as I do,” Collins said.
In other words, Collins, a college linebacker and tight end, is no longer intimidated and because of that, he’s a big reason the Saints’ running game is beginning to gain steam.
And the run game could be no more important than it will be Monday night when the Saints (9-2) travel to CenturyLink Field for an NFC showdown with Seattle (10-1) in a battle for first place in the conference.
To get where New Orleans is now, it had to get worse before it got better. The Saints were 25th in the NFL in run yards per game (81.3) and 27th in yards per attempt (3.4) through four games. A month later, they were down to No. 26 (79.8 ypg) and No. 29 (3.3 ypa), respectively.
But only three teams have more rushing yardage the past three weeks than New Orleans’ 437, and the Saints have moved up to No. 23 at 97.7 yards per game and have boosted their per attempt average to 3.9.
To listen to teammates, Collins’ role in the rush revival is as critical as anybody’s.
“He’s as big a reason that it’s improving as anybody,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “He has been awfully physical for us. We run a lot of lead plays and he has been good and he’s a guy that never gets mentioned ever.”
Added running back Pierre Thomas, “You can basically say he’s a silent assassin. I mean, he don’t get the credit he deserves as much but he makes things happen out there.”
Collins, meanwhile, sees himself less as an assassin and more as an artist.
“I would definitely say a Picasso,” Collins said. “From afar, it doesn’t really make sense. But when you understand the details of it, you get to see the beauty and a simple step can make a three-yard run a 30-yard run.”
Collins, though, is more than just a blocker.
He’s 4-for-4 on third-and-one this season, tied for best in the NFL for conversion percentage. He has one touchdown on eight carries while also catching nine passes for 42 yards.
Still, it’s the blocking that has the biggest impact on the Saints’ fortunes.
The long-haired fullback said his comfort level in the offense has grown the longer he has been in it and that’s as much of a factor of his success as not being intimidated by defensive players.
“Once you understand the scheme as a big picture, not only what your individual goal is, you’re able to make plays on the run, make plays on the fly and understand that these two got caught up on a double team (and) that backer is going to be free,” Collins said. “I’m going to at least peek at him if he’s most dangerous.”
Three years into his time with New Orleans and six seasons into his professional career, he understands that he won’t necessarily get the recognition for his abilities that other name-brand stars will from outside of the locker room. All he needs is his teammates to recognize his contributions and they undoubtedly have this season.
“If we didn’t have a guy who could take on the linebackers toe-to-toe and drive them back, I mean, I don’t think our run game would be good at all,” Thomas said. “I think we’d be at the bottom of the charts if we didn’t have our Jed Collins.”