Falcon pushes past mistakes as starting cornerback

After a disappointing rookie season and a four-game suspension to start this season, Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins — a second-round draft pick in 2015 — has the opportunity to prove if he can perform on the professional level.

Collins’ chance to redeem his 17-tackle, no-interception rookie season seemed to be gone before his second season began when Collins was suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing-drug policy in April. Collins has played in only four games this season because of his suspension and then because he was listed as inactive for two more game until his first action came against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 23.

The shortcomings of his professional career so far and resulting criticism do weigh on Collins, but he is pushing through the disappointments with the support of his team, his family and friends to make the most of his second season.

In his second game of the season, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Collins finally was given the opportunity to prove he wasn’t a wasted second-round pick.

In the first half against the Buccaneers, cornerback Desmond Trufant suffered a shoulder injury and didn’t return to the game, leaving room for Collins to fill his spot in Tampa and to start the next two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. On Tuesday, Trufant was placed on injured reserve after he underwent season-ending surgery on his shoulder, leaving room for Collins to take the reins for the rest of the season.

“I just felt like for the last couple weeks we’ve really challenged him to play at the line of scrimmage,” coach Dan Quinn said. “They’ve taken shots on him, and he’s responded to that. I felt the physicality in his games. We’re going to let him be the player that he is. So it’s not, ‘Hey man, you’ve really got to step it up since Tru’s out.’ We’ve got to play like Jalen’s capable of, and he totally represents that. He’s off to a good start. I see his arrow definitely trending up.”

With four games and two starts this season Collins recorded 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and four pass deflections.

After watching Collins struggle to adjust to the pros after the best season of his collegiate career in 2014, with LSU, defensive coordinator Richard Smith doesn’t regret drafting Collins.

“What I like about him is that he’s a very mature man; the game’s not too big for him,” Smith said. “If you go back at the Tampa Bay game where he made some nice plays and then also (against Arizona), he got beat on one route, then he came back on fourth-and-7 and he made that nice stop when we put him in man coverage. That was huge. That put our offense, I think we started on the 40-yard line.”

Against Arizona, Collins had six tackles and three pass deflections — a single-game high for Collins.

While Collins has a challenge ahead of him in transitioning from sitting inactive for the first six week of the season to starting at cornerback, he sees his new role as an opportunity to shine against the Kansas City Chiefs who rank 27th in the league in yards per game (328.3) and 23rd in the League in passing yards per game (231.7).

“It’s another opportunity to go out there and just showcase the work that we put in here,” Collins said. “Their offense, they have some great players, great receivers, great backs. They have a few guys out, but we’re still going to be prepared for the looks that they give and just go into the game ready for whatever they throw at us.”