Texans' Lovie Smith on Maliek Collins: 'He's an athlete'

Maliek Collins endured a slow burn last season in Las Vegas, an unproductive season with the Raiders compared to how he disrupted offenses for the Dallas Cowboys.

Now that Collins is with the Texans via a one-year contract with a maximum value of $6 million, he's already looking like a player they'll want to keep because of his ability to change the line of scrimmage with his rare combination of power, quickness and moves, including a twitchy spin move.

Collins is positioning himself to be the Texans' primary three-technique defensive tackle in tandem with Ross Blacklock, lining up in an impact position in new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith's 4-3 scheme.

“All of the positions are important, but our three technique, it starts with him," Smith said. "He's the closest guy, pretty much to the center that can really make plays. Maliek Collins can play that, Ross can also, so I feel like we have a couple of guys. On Maliek, he can rush the passer. He's an athlete, which we're looking for. He's been in the system quite a while, pleased with what he's done so far.”

Photo: Houston Texans

Although Collins is powerfully built at 6-foot-2, 311 pounds, the former Dallas Cowboys third-round draft pick from Nebraska and projected starter for the Texans reverses directions adeptly and is a blur of activity at practice.

“I can move a little bit,” Collins said before the start of training camp. “That’s my game: penetrate and get off the ball, redirect. I hope to bring a sense of leadership. I hope to bring some juice on the inside, not to say that there wasn’t juice here. There’s a lot of key people that are dogs, too. I’m just trying to come in and contribute.”

Signed to a deal negotiated by agent Drew Rosenhaus that includes a $2 million base salary, $2 million signing bonus and up to $1 million in per-game active roster bonuses with $58,823 per game active along with a $1 million playtime incentive clause, Collins is embracing his new surroundings after his quiet year in Las Vegas.

Why did he choose the Texans?

“I just needed an opportunity and I thought it was a great opportunity for a team trying to build a team with a fresh start,” Collins said. “And, quite honestly, I needed a fresh start, too, so it was the best place I could have picked. Of course being back in Texas is good. I still live up in Dallas, so I'm good."

Collins recorded 15 tackles and no sacks last season in a dozen games for the Raiders. Before that, he had 14½ sacks in four seasons with the Cowboys, including four sacks in 2019 in his final season in Dallas.

Collins made no excuses about dropping to one quarterback hit and no sacks last season for the Raiders after recording 40 quarterback hits for the Cowboys in four seasons. Collins played 504 defensive snaps last season for Las Vegas, 46 percent of the defensive playing time.

"I just didn't put out no numbers,” Collins said. “It just wasn't a big statistical year for me. I'll bounce back.”

Photo: Houston Texans

In 73 career games, Collins has 62 tackles, 14½ sacks and one forced fumble. He has 20 tackles for losses.

The Texans have high expectations for Collins in defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s trademark 4-3 scheme. A former high school heavyweight wresting champion in Kansas City, Mo., who had a perfect 48-0 record as a senior, Collins has run the 40-yard dash in 5.03 seconds.

"He plays the game the right way," Texans coach David Culley said. He's very strong. I mean, he's a wonderful guy, and again, just playing the game, and he's a great example of how you're supposed to play this game.”

On film, it’s obvious that Collins’ aggressive style of play and long-arm move frequently opens up pass rushing lanes for his teammates.

“It’s different to help create for other guys rather than help create for yourself,” Collins said. “Sometimes, you have to create for yourself. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Collins is looking forward to playing for Smith after meeting him previously at Illinois and having played for Smith’s friend, Rod Marinelli, last season in Las Vegas.

“They have a rich tradition knowing each other and being friends and seeing that connection,” Collins said. “Meeting Lovie seeing what kind of guy he is, he’s the same guy. I’m happy to play for a coach like that.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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