(Editor's Note: Dan Turner, a journalist from England, has come across the pond for the second straight training camp, to get a closer look at America's Team. Throughout camp, Dan (@dtsturner) will provide some insight on several rookies, continuing today with undrafted offensive lineman La'el Collins.)
OXNARD, Calif. - We all know the La'el Collins story by now. He was all set to be a first round pick, probably in the top-10 of the draft, and ended up going undrafted due to reasons outside of his control. The way he dealt with it though, both at the time and since, shows the incredible resilience and faith of the 22-year old.
Collins played well in the preseason opener against the Chargers last Thursday. Ron Leary started with the first team at left guard, but Collins took over from him after the first series. He had a few bad snaps, but his overall performance showed enough quality to warrant the excitement that so many have for him.
So far this camp, Collins has seen most of his time with the second team, behind Leary. He hasn't done much wrong, but the Cowboys gave priority to the returning starter, and Leary has responded well to the challenge that Collins has brought. Their respective traits are actually quite similar. Both are better run blockers than pass blockers, with Leary slightly more powerful, and Collins slightly better at blocking on the move. At this point, it looks like Leary will win the battle.[embeddedad0]
There isn't any hint of remorse in Collins though, as he said, "There's no better place than here". That's because his ambitions aren't just personal. When you next hear an interview with Collins, try to count on your hands how many times he says 'team', and you'll run out of fingers very quickly. He has received criticism for saying he wants to be part of the "best offensive line in NFL history", but that's his ambition, and he's fully entitled to it.
There is an aura of calm around Collins when you speak to him, which surprised me initially, but can be explained quite easily. Yes, there are still plenty of uncertainties surrounding him, but he is playing the game that he loves in a surrounding that he chose. After the intense stress and emotions of draft week, the challenges of football will be a blessed relief.
Here is the rest of the interview with La'el Collins:
On the difference between being a first round pick and going undrafted now that he's actually at training camp:
"It has nothing to do with the game of football. Now, it's just about how you're going to help the team, and contribute to the team. I'm ready to get coached and get better every day. That's just been my approach from day one."
On what he wants from the rest of the preseason games:
"I'm looking forward to going out and playing some good games. I'm just going to do what I do, and help my team win, and we do this thing together."
On his most memorable moment since joining the Cowboys:
"Of course when I first joined it was a big time moment, but just being here every day is a 'wow' moment for me. Seeing these fans, and all the love around. There's no better place."
On his initiation song:
"Yeah, I sung 'Lean on Me' (by Bill Withers). It went good. I got some claps, and didn't get any boos, so I was good."
On what he does to relax out here in Oxnard:
"I just hang around with my teammates. They're my brothers now, and we have good relationships around here. We just have a good time."