- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2019

ASHBURN — There was a reason Landon Collins, as an aspiring young football player, idolized Sean Taylor over other great safeties of the early 2000s, like an Ed Reed or a Troy Polamalu. It was what drove Collins to watch hours of the former Redskins safety on YouTube, what led him to declare to his father that Taylor was the player he wanted to model his game after.

It was why, after all these years, Collins still has the gift he received from his dad in middle school: Taylor’s University of Miami jersey.

What made Collins so obsessed? He watched Taylor hit.

“You hear kids now that’s in the NBA saying if it wasn’t for Michael Jordan, they wouldn’t know how to play the game,” Thomas Collins, Landon’s father, told The Washington Times. “I can see a lot of Landon, especially coming up, (emulate) the way Sean Taylor hit, the way he comes down is the same way Landon do it.”

Since Collins signed a six-year, $84 million deal with the Redskins in free agency, coaches and teammates alike have been impressed by the safety’s sure-handed, bone-jarring tackles. Like Taylor, Collins always seems to be in the right place at the right time to punish ball carriers and receivers.

On Sunday, Collins gets the opportunity to administer some of that punishment to his former team as the Redskins travel to take on the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

Collins’ tenure with the Giants did not end on a good note. The 25-year-old has blasted Giants general manager Dave Gettleman in interviews over the last few months, saying  he “saw the difference” in how players were treated after Gettleman replaced former GM Jerry Reese in 2017.

For Collins, Sunday’s matchup is intensely personal — something the Redskins don’t mind.

The safety’s fiery demeanor is one reason the team pursued Collins in the offseason. Twice a year, the Redskins saw up-close how Collins wrecked plays at the line of scrimmage, chased down receivers in the open field and made game-changing plays.

Collins plays with a chip on his shoulder.

“We wanted him,” coach Jay Gruden told New York media on a conference call, “because he was a pain in the (butt) with the Giants.”

Even in an era when the NFL has skewed the rules to protect players — or benefit offenses, as defenders would argue — Collins is able to impose his physicality. Since being drafted in 2015, the three-time Pro Bowler leads all defensive backs in tackles with 455 — 66 more than the next defender, Rams safety Mark Baron.

In that span, Collins has only drawn four unnecessary roughness penalties — the hits are hard, but clean.

So what makes Collins such an effective tackler? Is it the ferocity or is it the accuracy?

“Honestly, it’s both,” running back Chris Thompson said. “He takes great angles. His feet are good. For him, it’s really all about angles. He’s a big, strong compact dude, so if he gets your hands on you, for the most part, you’re not going to get away from him.

“He’s just vicious the way he plays the game.”

Thompson would know, having faced him in the NFC East for four years. He said players have to make “business decisions” when seeing Collins, either by going out of bounds or bracing themselves for the hit.

Tight end Vernon Davis said Collins has a “presence” on the field other players take note of.

On a disappointing Redskins defense, Collins has been a standout.

In three games, Collins has a team-high 27 tackles — 20 unassisted.

Thomas Collins said he always felt his son was suited to playing defense. Growing up in Louisiana, Collins played both running back and linebacker, but switched primarily to defense in high school.

“Landon was about eight years old … and a guy said, ‘Man, look at him playing defense, I didn’t know Landon could play defense like that,’” Thomas Collins said. “I said, ‘When he gets older, I think, the other side of the ball is where he’s going to be.’”

The intuition turned out to be right. And the Redskins are surely glad the switch was made.

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