Packers Scoop April 9: Collins’ future, Packers’ Draft Tightly Linked – Packers News @ PFT

GREEN BAY – Nick Collins embodies the phrase “Packer People.”
For six seasons, the Green Bay Packers’ 28-year-old safety was a mainstay on and off the field.
On it, the 2005 second-round draft pick from tiny Bethune-Cookman stepped into a starting role as a rookie. He proceeded to hone his craft while starting 93 of 96 games during his first six seasons. He developed into a three-time Pro Bowl safety and was a key cog in the Packers’ defense that helped Green Bay defeat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
Off the field, Collins’ growth was equally impressive. Initially, the shy, soft-spoken kid from Gainesville was uncomfortable in the spotlight. He preferred covering a Pro Bowl receiver to tackling a public speaking engagement. I recall the first time Collins was a featured guest at a Event USA’ player party. His smile was intoxicating but his answers were brief. Clearly he enjoyed being among Packers fans, but expressing himself didn’t come naturally.
Rest assured, the conscientious Collins worked to become more relaxed, and with the help of his wife, Andrea, he came out of his shell. Now he is extremely comfortable speaking in front of fans, and he no longer feels reluctant to share his charm and personality. He is a much-requested repeat attendee at Event USA Fan Receptions and on the PFT Annual Packers’ Vacation Trips & Cruises.
That combination of a likeable disposition, upbeat attitude and supreme talent catapulted Collins to “fan favorite” status.
Getting to know Collins as a person made it all the more enjoyable to see him flourish as a player. That connection also made it so painful to see him felled by a seemingly innocuous hit last season. Collins’ neck was bent awkwardly after his helmet slammed into Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart’s thigh in a Sept. 18 game at Carolina.
The collision left Collins temporarily paralyzed and his fans aghast. Collins’ extremities eventually regained feeling, but the resulting damage required cervical neck fusion surgery.
It has been almost seven months since the injury, and Collins’ football future remains in doubt. According to reports, the Packers and Collins will meet this week to discuss the next step. Will it be a much-welcomed return to the Packers’ defense, or will it be early retirement?
Some fans and media believe Collins should walk away while he can. They feel the risk isn’t worth the reward, and if he does return and incur a neck-related injury, they will say, “See, I told you so.”
The truth is this is Collins’ and his family’s decision and no one else’s.
If Collins is cleared by team doctors and elects to play I will wholeheartedly support his choice. If he chooses to hang up his helmet I will applaud the multitude of big plays he made, and the consummate professionalism he displayed in his seven seasons.
No more, no less.
If Collins elects to retire it begs two questions. What if? Who next
When Packers GM Ted Thompson drafted Collins and presented him with No. 36, he did so confident that the shy, soft-spoken kid from tiny Bethune-Cookman was a worthy successor to LeRoy Bulter.
Collins proved Thompson to be prophetic. And Butler has entusiastically endorsed the use of his jersey number “36” as he and Collins have become close. And mutually respectful.
Sadly, the odds that Thompson can find another draft gem like Collins seems almost as remote as the odds that the Pro Bowl safety would be felled by a freak play.
There was only one LeRoy Butler, and there is only one Nick Collins.
It is what made both such special players, and while it is especially painful to realize the successor’s career may be finished before it reached its zenith.
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.