Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 | 9 a.m.
The key to the Raiders’ hopes in 2020 is the play of the defense. And the key to the defense, according to coach Jon Gruden, is Maliek Collins.
Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say that Collins is shaping up to be Las Vegas’ most important player this season.
Gruden singled out Collins’s value to the team — again — during a Thursday press conference. It wasn’t the first time the coach has talked up the fifth-year DT, as he also referred to Collins last week as “a name that we’ve got to circle and look at every single day.”
Now, Gruden is known to go overboard with plaudits from time to time, so the kind words may not necessarily mean he’s in love with Collins as a player. But his current obsession would seem to indicate that the Raiders are going to rely on Collins to be a big contributor to the rebuilt defense in 2020.
The Raiders signed Collins away from Dallas in March, giving him a substantial 1-year, $6 million contract. In his first four years, Collins started 55 games for the Cowboys and recorded 14.5 sacks from his interior rusher position, but Gruden believes there is potential for more production.
“He’s officially about to enter the prime of his career,” Gruden said of Collins, who is entering his age-25 season. “He’s got a lot of playing experience. He’s got a lot of technical knowledge of what we want done.”
Collins, a third-round pick in the 2016 draft, started all 16 games for Dallas last season and had 4.0 sacks. Rod Marinelli served as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and defensive line coach for the entirety of Collins’ career, so when Gruden hired Marinelli to be the Raiders D-line coach in the offseason, bringing in a young veteran like Collins made a lot of sense.
Gruden has consistently expressed confidence in Marinelli’s ability to coach up the line, and in Thursday’s meeting with the media the head coach pointed to the prior connection between Marinelli and Collins as a good thing for the Raiders’ rebuilt defense.
“Collins has experience in our system,” Gruden said. “He’s a classic 3-technique. He has experience with the position coach that’s working with him. He’s the key to our defense. He’s got a chance to be one of the better ones and we’re happy about that.”
Marinelli-coached defenses have typically relied on the line to generate pressure on opposing passers, and that includes giving the defensive tackles a green light to pin their ears back and rush upfield. Despite his modest career sack numbers, Collins posted impressive advanced statistics last year; he ranked eight among defensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’s pass-rush grade, and his 48 pressures tied for 11th at the position.
Gruden seems to think Collins can bring that level of havoc to the Raiders’ line.
“That 3-technique in this defense has to raise hell,” Gruden said last week, “and [Collins] has got to do it for us.”