BOURBONNAIS – Nate Collins had waited patiently for the day to arrive when he felt his surgically repaired left knee was strong enough to allow him to explode off the line of scrimmage and into contact with an offensive lineman.
So as routine as a one-on-one pass rush drill might have seemed Sunday morning, to Collins – who tore his ACL in the fifth week of last season against the Saints – the opportunity to test himself represented a big step forward.
Collins blew by reserve lineman Dylan Gandy and then Ryan Groy, hampered neither by the large brace strapped to his knee or by the obstacle lined up against him. Collins understands it still is early and that training camp will only become tougher and more strenuous. The soreness will come, giving Collins an indication whether he's pushing too hard or not.
But Collins knew all along that the day would come when he would have to get back to work. So when that day came Sunday – the Bears' first day in pads – everything was right in Collins' football world.
"It just felt good to get out there," said Collins, who signed a one-year contract in March. "I had a lot of adrenaline running through me and a lot of energy. I'm just happy I got to be out here."
His excitement aside, Collins understands the work that remains. He finds himself battling rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton for playing time at tackle behind projected starters Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea. An experienced reserve, Collins knows what it will take to play himself into the rotation, leaving him little time to worry about how his knee will hold up.
Collins said Sunday he's not concerned about that, but instead on proving that he is worth keeping around while competing against rookies who the Bears used draft picks on (Ferguson in the second round, Sutton in the third) to beef up a defensive line that was depleted last season by injuries.
But Collins has been around long enough to know that he can't control personnel moves, leaving him to do only what he can to make the Bears' 53-man roster.
"I don't want to lie and say I'm hungrier – I'm always hungry," Collins said. "I have a mentality where the moment you get comfortable, something bad can go wrong or something unexpected can happen. As long as I can to focus on what I can control, everything else will work itself out. I know as long as I come out here and perform my best every single day, good things will happen."
If and how much Collins contributes to the defensive line depth is yet to be determined. Coach Marc Trestman said Sunday he needs everyone at the position and that Collins gives the Bears a "high-motor guy that has flown all over the field over the first few days of training camp."
Now, Collins knows, it's a matter of getting all the way back.
"I just have to try and train my body that I have to go as hard as I can (like it's a) game-like situation," Collins said. "That's the way that the trainers and team and everyone else knows that if they need to put me in a game, I'll be ready."