Making Some Noise
The Cowboys might have landed two superstars in last year's draft but there is a constant buzz surrounding Maliek Collins as he enters his second season.
Ask a fan to name a player from the Cowboys' 2016 draft class and "Maliek Collins" probably isn't going to be the first name that comes out of his or her mouth.
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were almost instantaneous superstars.
Anthony Brown made a name for himself by starting half the season at cornerback. Even Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper, who missed their rookie years with injuries, have fans speculating about their unknown potential.
It's a testament to the strength of the Cowboys' drafting that Collins, a defensive tackle and Dallas' third-round pick last season, could fall under the radar. Collins did more than just avoid disappointment his rookie year; on a number of other teams he might be the most promising young player on the roster.
Last season, Collins played a higher percentage (61.9 percent) of the team's regular season defensive snaps than any other defensive lineman on the Cowboys. He recorded five sacks, including two against the Cleveland Browns, and forced a fumble sacking quarterback Jameis Winston in a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"He has pop and that snap to him," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said of Collins midway through last season.
He did all of this despite breaking his foot at the beginning of team activities as a rookie forcing him to miss all of OTA's, mini-camp, and the majority of training camp. By any fair measure, he delivered on the expectations placed on him, but he certainly doesn't look at it that way.
"I never meet my own goals," Collins said during the last week of mini-camp.
His position is a constant battle of wearing down opponents. He doesn't believe he should use numbers to measure that toughness.
"[My goal is to] be the best player I can be so that I always keep improving," Collins said. "That's how I set my goals. I don't really do it statistically. Then you're out there chasing stats. The goal is to improve every day. If I'm not improving every day then I'm doing something wrong."
Marinelli is known to have coached a number of defensive linemen into their primes. He coached players like Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice as a defensive coach for Tampa Bay.
Collins plays the "Three-Technique" tackle under Marinelli's system and the effectiveness of the defense relies in some part on a player like Collins' ability to cause disruption. Collins says he doesn't necessarily need the voices of the Cowboys coaches or teammates to explain to him what is expected. Collins is a historian of his own position.
"The standards are basically written," Collins explained. "Me being a three-technique, the standards are in the history books of what three-techniques have done in this system. I like to say that's the standard. The people like John Randle, guys like Warren Sapp or [Keith] Millard, who started the system. [Anthony] McFarland, those types of players."
All of those players Collins mentioned dominated offensive lines at one point or another through the years. To Collins, the formula isn't all that complicated. He wants to emulate that domination.
"You try to meet those standards," he said.