By the end of last season, Jamie Collins had become New England's queen on the chess board.
The Patriots Divisional Round win over Indianapolis last season showed in 60 minutes of football just how versatile the rookie linebacker out of Southern Mississippi had become in his first season.
He rushed the passer, notching an acrobatic sack of Andrew Luck after getting clipped at the legs by running back Donald Brown. He dropped into coverage, picking off a second-half Luck pass to help seal the victory. And he played the run as well, recording six tackles (two for a loss) in the 43-22 win.
With minicamp beginning on Tuesday, he's not only looking to pick up where he left off. He believes he's improved just by nature of having a full season under his belt.
"I know a lot more," he said. "Playing faster. Last year I had to learn everything. Now I know most of it. I’m playing a little faster.”
Collins was seen during OTAs lining up at several different linebacker spots. He was in the middle of the field, but he also played off the edge -- a role that would be familiar to him since he played defensive end in college.
How he's used throughout the preseason is something to keep a close eye on. His teammates believe Collins has the ability to take his game to another level in his sophomore season because he'll now be able to pair his standout athleticism with a sound knowledge of the playbook.
"Jamie, in his second year here, just getting his feet wet after his rookie year, you know, I think he’s gonna have a better year, continuing to improve," Rob Ninkovich said after the team's ninth OTA session. "Obviously [he's] coming out here and getting better."
Fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- who at 24 is nearly five months younger than Collins even though he has one more year of NFL experience than Collins -- raved about the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder's approach to the game and his ability to pick up concepts quickly.
"I feel like he's blossomed a lot sooner than anybody," Hightower said. "I feel like he was a lot more mature than some people are in their third year. Him coming in and learning the way he did his first year, you couldn't tell that he wasn't a three or a four-year player.
"He's helping out a lot, He's getting the younger guys in there, watching film, and getting everything situated with them. Just like [Jerod] Mayo said: We have old souls. We mature a lot faster."
If his maturity level allows him to quickly pick up on multiple jobs this preseason, coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the rest of the Patriots staff may be salivating at the ways in which they'll be able to use their jack-of-all-trades linebacker.