How Nico Collins Improved as a Wide Receiver This Offseason

nico collins michigan wide receiver

How Nico Collins Improved as a Wide Receiver This Offseason

Football

How Nico Collins Improved as a Wide Receiver This Offseason

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan had just five plays go for 50 yards or more in 2017 and exactly zero of them were passing plays. It took all of one game in 2018 for the Wolverines offense to change that.

Early in the second half in the season opener at Notre Dame, quarterback Shea Patterson connected with wide receiver Nico Collins for a 52 yard pass play down the left hashmark. It was a welcome sight to fans of the maize and blue, given the dearth of long plays through the air a year ago.

But it goes back even further than that, as ESPN unearthed. It’s been since 2012 that Michigan has completed such a bomb between quarterback and receiver.

In that play, Collins blew by the cornerback and came right over top as the ball sailed into his arms. Considering the woes from a season ago — especially with the cadre of freshman wideouts struggling to get open — it was a drastic change.

But not a surprising one. Michigan brought in former Florida head coach Jim McElwain to oversee receivers once a 10th assistant was allowed by the NCAA. The Wolverines staff did not have a dedicated WR coach previously in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.

So with that hire and an onus to get better at getting open, Collins saw an opportunity and ran with it — literally.

“The separation I had, it was just top-end speed – just go!” Collins said. “’Don’t let him touch you,’ that was my mindset – ‘Don’t let him get his hands on you, he’ll try to slow you down!’ I knew Shea was gonna throw it to me. I knew he was gonna air it out, let me go get it – make a play.”

And McElwain, indeed, was one of the difference makers in helping the wideouts recognize how to get open. But, it’s also working against the pass defense, rated in 2017 as the nation’s best.

Between the two, Collins says, it allowed the young receiver group to grow up fast.

“Just the small things we didn’t have last year,” Collins said. As far as what they improved upon, he said: “Our footwork, coming in and out of breaks, using our hands a lot. We do a lot of releases against DBs. Our DBs are the top in the country, I feel like. They’re the best. So, going up against them every day is just improving us everyday. We’re just getting each other better.”

But, of course, in order for the group to get better, each individual player had to improve as well.

As for Collins, he says that it took him a little while to get acclimated to the college level, but once he caught on, he realized it wasn’t just about being bigger, faster or stronger — though he is all those things. It’s also about playing smart and relying on your wits on the field. Not just your talents.

As a result, there’s a lot about his personal growth that Collins has been happy with coming out of the offseason.

“Been a smarter player, smarter receiver,” Collins said. “Just getting a little faster, getting used to the feeling of being in college.

“Just reading the defense – the safeties and corners, what kind of leverage they’re using against me. It’s finding the small things, like if I run a slant or a hitch or something, it’s, ‘What is the defense gonna be?’ And trying to find that hole, instead of just running a route and running into stiff coverage. Just finding the open space.”

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