Patriots LB Jamie Collins’ finished strong in 2013. (USA TODAY Images)

(This is the fourth¬†in a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. We’ll have several each day, so check back frequently as we go down the roster. ¬†This edition focuses on Patriots¬†linebacker Jamie Collins:)

2013 Summary: 

One of the areas addressed in recent years has been Bill Belichick finally moving toward infusing youth and speed at the linebacker position, which early in New England was something he had been reluctant at addressing early in the draft.

Going back to 2001, Belichick never took a player at that position higher than the fifth¬†round (2005, Ryan Claridge) until 2008 when he took Tennessee’s Jerod Mayo in round one, followed by Michigan’s Shawn Crable in round three. ¬†That was the beginning of a trend that has continued in recent years, including South Florida’s Tyrone McKenzie in round three in 2009, followed by Florida’s Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham in the second round in 2010, along with Dont’a Hightower¬†in round one in 2012.

It’s a position he’s committed to improving, and last year saw him grab Southern Mississippi’s Jamie Collins with their first pick in the second round.

Collins had a season that went exactly how one could only hope every rookie would have. ¬†He just kept getting better and more comfortable with each passing week, seeing his snap totals increase from the 3% he saw in week one to playing in 68% of the snaps by week 17. ¬†He was one of the bright spots for this defense last season, and heading into training camp it’s going to be fun to see how much more he can grow before he hits the field in 2014.

Best game of 2013: 

Collins played well during the team’s win over the Browns in Week 14, playing 53 defensive snaps, the highest regular season total of 2013 while also finishing tied with Rob Ninkovich and Steve Gregory with seven tackles, including one tackle for a loss along with a pass defensed. ¬†However, the image of the play he made during the Divisional round against the Colts while battling against tight end Coby Fleener was one that definitely encompasses his athletic ability. ¬†On the play, Collins lined up over Fleener, who was split out, and played him just like a defensive back,¬†staying step-for-step¬†with him down the field before leaping up and batting the ball away for the incompletion. ¬†

That was one of Collins’ most memorable outings, with the rookie finishing tied for second on the team with six tackles. However, the rest of his stat line was ridiculous compared to everyone else that afternoon. ¬†He finished with a sack, two tackles for a loss, three quarterback hits, and an interception along with a pass defensed.

Games like that are the ones that fans can only hope he’ll carry over into his sophomore season. ¬†But it was obviously a terrific look at¬†what he’s capable of.

Notable Stat of 2013:  

A recent mention of Collins by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal called Collins a ‚Äúcornerback trapped in a 250-pound body‚ÄĚ,¬†and looking at his numbers in 2013, it’s hard not to agree with that notion. ¬†Despite his limited playing time through most of the early part of his rookie year, Collins still finished with 4 passes defensed, tied for sixth with safety Duron Harmon. ¬†In the postseason his two passes defensed were more than every other defensive back other than Alfonzo Dennard (4), with every other corner and safety finishing with zero. ¬†Dont’a Hightower, who has also shown some good athleticism, also had one.

What to Watch For in 2014: 

Collins joins Logan Ryan as one of the more pleasant surprises of 2013, and it’s hard to not have the expectations to be extremely high for him heading into this season. ¬†He’s got freakish speed and body control, and actually looks more like a tight end playing linebacker. ¬†One area this team has been lacking in recent years is having linebackers who can handle themselves against bigger tight ends, and at 6’3″, Collins’¬†size and speed had made¬†him a terrific asset in New England’s defense. ¬†If he¬†can start 2014 the way he finished 2013, it’s hard not to be excited about what the season holds for him.