Patriots unleash a beast

"I've seen it ever since he's gotten here. You can definitely tell how athletic the guy is," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "He's probably one of the most athletic guys on the team and it didn't take him long to kind of get a grasp on what was going on and for him to make plays like that. Everybody else might be surprised, but we see it every day."

The versatility stands out.

"As you saw today, he's split out on the tight end, covering them on fade patterns and he's blitzing up the middle and he's making tackles in line," coach Bill Belichick said. "I think he's pretty comfortable wherever he is -- whether he's out in space and covering a guy 20 yards downfield or one-on-one coverage with no help, or whether he's in line taking on blockers or blitzing or covering tight ends from in close.

"He's a very versatile athlete that's smart, works hard, really has a great team attitude. I love having him on our team. He brings a lot. He's got good stamina and he's very athletic and tough," Belichick added.

Veteran defensive end Andre Carter has been in the NFL since 2001 and he's experienced the evolution of the game firsthand. He sees linebackers such as Collins as the new prototype.

"The game has evolved so much -- there is spread and you also have mobile quarterbacks -- and it's great to have a guy like that who can kind of control the pocket and know his job on the coverage side," he said, drawing the comparison to former San Francisco 49ers teammate Jamie Winborn, who was a bit smaller (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) than Collins and known more for his speed. "He's definitely a hybrid."

A most unique hybrid who just enjoyed his official breakthrough.

This was Collins' coming-out party, and it couldn't have come at a more important time for the Patriots.

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