Back in June, on the final day of offseason workouts, the Browns held something of a lighthearted skills challenge where offensive linemen tried to field punts and linebackers tossed footballs into kicking nets.
It was all no sweat for Jamie Collins, who threaded a pass with ease and promptly celebrated with his teammates.
Shortly after that whole session, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was asked if he was surprised by Collins — the Pro Bowler whom the Browns re-signed earlier this year — and his passing prowess. Williams shook his head and smiled.
"You all don't really get a chance to see how really good he is at lots of things," he said.
Browns linebackers coach Blake Williams offered a similar stance. "You see that little competition we were having at the end of practice, and I think we had like 15 straight guys missed it," he said. "He's like, 'Just give me the ball.' Bam. Just drains a 30-yard throw at the net on first throw, but he just does stuff like that all the time and so it's great to have guys like that around and he's a great competitor."
Collins, who landed in Cleveland last year after a midseason trade with the Patriots, is expected to help anchor a young defense that added two first-round picks in defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers. And since making the decision to stay in Cleveland despite a trying 1-15 season in 2016, the often-reserved Collins has endeared himself to the coaching staff.
"He's gonna be mad because I'm telling you this … but he's very intelligent," Gregg Williams said. "He was a high school quarterback, and really would have liked to play quarterback in college."
"I don't want to give out all of Jamie's secrets, but no, Jamie is a smart football player," Blake Williams added. "Now, he has been very well coached. We all know that. We all know where he came from. He has been very well coached in New England. That's great for us coaches to be able to coach off of that coaching."
Gregg Williams, the 27-year veteran whom the Browns hired in January, has built five top-five defenses and a Super Bowl winner by fielding the best 11 players, regardless of position. It's why he said every member of the defense will learn two positions. It's also why he, half-jokingly, said Collins — who played safety at Southern Mississippi — could line up all over the field if need be.
"He's begging me to play safety," Gregg Williams said. "And I'm not saying he couldn't be the best one out there right now. If he wanted to play defensive end, he could play defensive end."
"There's lots of things about his versatility," he continued, "that it's gonna be fun and challenging to find spots to cut him loose."