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Top 10 Players: 8. Nick Collins

In the next two weeks, I’m going to take a look at the 10 most important players for the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 NFL season.  They may not be the best players, but their roles have a distinct impact on how far the team can go.

Going into 2008, Nick Collins was under the radar.  Most only new him as that safety from Bethune-Cookman that Ted Thompson drafted after drafting Aaron Rodgers.  Well, like Rodgers, Collins had his breakout year in 2008.

Collins’ accomplishments from 2008 are a laundry list: Pro Bowl starter, Second Team All-Pro (AP), seven interceptions (tops in NFC, second in NFL), three interception returns for touchdowns, second on team with 99 tackles (77 solo).

In 2009, things look different for Collins.  In the offseason, Collins had the tragic family issues keep him away from OTAs and the team, with a contract dispute compounding his absence.  He’s one of the many Packers going into a contract year, and he wants a new deal.  With first priority Greg Jennings locked into an extension, the Packers free agents are all looking for deals.

However, the defensive situation makes what will happen to the free agents on defense pretty hazy.  As Dom Capers installs his 3-4 defense, no one knows how the players the Packers have already will respond to it.  Are they good fits?   Can they learn the system?

All of these questions are valid points for not giving Collins the big contract he wants.  Thompson, Capers, and Mike McCarthy want to see how he will respond to learning a system he is unfamiliar with.  His skill set might not even fit with the 3-4 defense.  Why would the Thompson dedicate so much money to someone who doesn’t fit the system?

Anyways, back to why Collins is No. 8 on my list of the ten most important players for the Packers 2009 season.  The Packers need a leader in the secondary.  Al Harris and Charles Woodson are both great players, but their positions make it hard for them to contribute to the leadership of the defense other than by example.  Collins, in the middle of it all, can join Nick Barnett in leading the defense and getting them fired up.  Collins follows in the footsteps of Leroy Butler and Darren Sharper with leadership roles in the secondary.

The Packers also need Collins to play defense exactly how he did in 2008: by making plays.  They need Collins to be the ballhawking safety the defense depends on.  Considering how the offense played last year, they won’t need the touchdowns as much as the interceptions.  The team will want Collins to force turnovers, making the transition to the 3-4 easier.

Collins is also important because of his attitude.  If he is the aforementioned leader of the secondary, the team will be fine.  If he whines about his contract and create a distraction, then that could be a problem.  Most Packers are hardened to distractions after 2008′s Brett Favre saga, but any distraction is a bad distraction for a team trying to rebound.

Collins is vital for the Packers defense, present and future.

Tomorrow: No. 7.

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Topics: Aaron Rodgers, Al Harris, Brett Favre, Charles Woodson, Darren Sharper, Dom Capers, Greg Jennings, LeRoy Butler, Mike McCarthy, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Ted Thompson

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