FRISCO, Texas – It would have been hard to imagine Maliek Collins as a starter just two weeks ago.
But when the Cowboys line up to start Week 3 against Chicago, don't be surprised to see the rookie defensive tackle lined up as one of the first four Dallas defensive linemen on the field.
"You want to get your best combinations of guys out there. You want to make sure you get them in the right spot," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys provided a preview of this in the second half against Washington. During the dying minutes of that game, the defensive coaches kicked Tyrone Crawford out to left defensive end, allowing Collins to play defensive tackle alongside Terrell McClain.
"Maliek did a good job in the game," Garrett said. "He was pretty active, not only affecting the quarterback and being around the ball when they ran it inside but he made some good plays coming out of the stack."
With the Cowboys hurting for pass rush production, it sounds like they might turn to this formation once more against the Bears – not that Collins is taking anything for granted.
"I just go whenever my number is called," he said.
It's pretty remarkable, given the rookie's trajectory so far this season. Collins broke his foot back during OTAs, and he missed the vast majority of training camp. Typically, when a rookie misses that much development, it takes time to acclimate to this level of play.
If that's been a problem for Collins, though, he isn't showing it.
"I feel like I face the best offensive line in practice every day," he said. "So just seeing their speed that they work with – Pod drills, really – I feel like I'll be prepared for the games."
Collins answered questions with reporters for several minutes, but he didn't offer much in the way of money quotes. That's in keeping with his personality, and it's just fine with his coaches – especially if he continues to speak loudly on the playing field.
"He comes to work every day, doesn't say a whole lot, just goes to work," Garrett said. "He's improved a great deal in a short period of time and we're excited about his progress."