GREEN BAY – Nick Collins was all smiles in the Green Bay Packers locker room Thursday, content – at least for now – in his new role.
“Just a different side of Nick Collins – more of a teacher than anything,” the Packers three-time Pro Bowl safety said, appearing before reporters for the first time without a neck brace. “(I) just want these guys to go out and play fast and know what they’re doing, know their assignments so they can be successful as a team.”
That team will be without Collins, who suffered a career-threatening neck injury Sept. 18 at Carolina, for the rest of the season on the field, but they won’t be without him on the sideline. Collins, who spoke at length for the first time with reporters following the Packers’ Oct. 23 victory at Minnesota, has been on the sideline for each of the Packers’ last three games and will make the trip to San Diego for Sunday’s game as well.
Collins said he’s living in Green Bay and coming to Lambeau Field each day, although he’s not attending every meeting or practice because “I don’t want to distract these guys. They’ve got to focus. Any advice that they need, I’m here for them. That’s pretty much my role now. I’m on the sideline looking at formations, giving them tips on what they like to do out of certain formations and stuff like that. I think it’s a plus.”
Collins still hopes to resume his NFL career next season, but he won’t know for another five months whether he’ll be able to play again after undergoing spinal fusion surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York on Sept. 27. The surgery was a “single spinal fusion” in which Dr. Frank Cammisa removed a ruptured disc in Collins’ neck and fused the area with Collins’ own bone from his hip.
Collins said being around the game isn’t making him miss playing any more than he already does; rather, it’s giving him a new perspective and allowing him to stay connected to the team when many players on season-ending injured reserve lose touch.
“I get to see the game from a whole different side. It’s amazing how fast the game is from not being out there and just on the sideline looking at it,” Collins said. “It’s been a great ride for me. It’s giving me a great experience to prepare for when I do decide to retire from this game. I’ll have more upside to wherever I go to coach and they can look at it and say, ‘OK, he was on the sideline doing this, coaching these guys.’ It’s just uplifting for me.
“Going through a tough situation like I’m going through right now, just to be around these guys is very uplifting. They keep me positive. I’m always a positive guy, so it’s just been fun. I can let my body heal and prepare for coming back next year.”
Collins said he has been told by several people that his voice sounds different since the surgery, which required doctors to negotiate around his voicebox. But he’s sounding more and more like himself, and losing the neck brace last Friday was definitely progress.
“I’m free. I’m a free man,” Collins joked. “I’m out of prison.”
For now, Collins is limited to riding the stationary bike and using the elliptical machine as far as workouts. He’s also using 3-pound dumbbells. He said he’s set to meet with Cammisa when the Packers play the New York Giants in a month, and again reiterated that he’s at peace if it turns out that he can’t play football again.
“Coming from a small college (Bethune-Cookman), getting drafted by the Green Bay Packers and the success that I’ve had over these past years that I’ve been here – that’s just gratifying enough,” Collins said. “With my family, I want to be there with them throughout their whole lives. That’s the most important thing. I can take nothing away from this game. I love this game. I appreciate this game. Hopefully, I can continue to play this game.
“Everybody in my family is pretty upbeat. They say, ‘Just keep your head up. You’ll be back.’ Everything has been positive from everybody, and that just keeps me going. I’m glad to know that everybody has been thinking about me.”
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There are no games scheduled for today.