After signing with the Patriots practice squad in early October, an old friend is finally making his season debut on Monday night against the Bears.
The Patriots are elevating veteran linebacker Jamie Collins from the practice squad to make him eligible to play in Monday Night Football. Collins was signed to the practice squad on October 3, but this marks his first standard elevation of the season, as he remained on the practice squad in the last two games.
As for Collins's role on the game-day roster, New England's defense has found a rhythm over the last two weeks, and roles are being defined at linebacker. With thumper Ja'Whaun Bentley serving as an early-down off-ball linebacker and the more athletic Mack Wilson carving out a role in passing situations, the Pats have stabilized the inside linebacker spot after a rough start.
Furthermore, fourth-year linebacker Jahlani Tavai has established himself as a capable early-down edge-setter for the Patriots on the line of scrimmage opposite Matthew Judon.
In 2021, Collins split his time between playing in the box (182 snaps) and as an edge defender (131 snaps), where he was an effective playmaker coming downhill at the line of scrimmage.
Although it's clear that there's a plan for Collins to contribute this season, it's unclear whose snaps he'll dip into since the Patriots have discovered an identity defensively in recent weeks.
The most likely path on the field for the veteran is as a nickel-backer next to either Bentley or Wilson off the ball to give the Patriots a true two-linebacker look at the second level. We also wouldn't rule out Collins dipping into Tavai's edge snaps to bring more playmaking to that role.
There's the possibility that Collins is being elevated as a depth option in case of injury. But his play and history with the team suggest the coaching staff has a role in mind for the 33-year-old.
With Collins and G/DL Bill Murray as the two elevations from the practice squad this week, it also signals that Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (ankle, questionable) will be active on Monday night vs. the Bears.
Since the team did not elevate third-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert, the presumption is that New England expects Jones to play and likely start after sitting out the last three games.
After sustaining a high-ankle sprain at the tail end of the Patriots loss to the Ravens in Week 3, Jones is expected to make his return against Chicago. Although it's mostly externally driven, there will be pressure on Mac to perform following rookie Bailey Zappe's impressive play during the Pats recent two-game winning streak with Jones on the mend.
As we've written all week, unofficial offensive play-caller Matt Patricia can help Jones find his stride in year two by keeping the offense QB-friendly compared to the first three weeks.
Continuing to call more play-action, keep extra blockers in pass protection when they dial up shot plays, and finding a middle ground between the air-it-out approach and the conservative style that Zappe was playing will hopefully strike a balance between explosive and secure.
Clearly, the offense the Patriots were designing and calling in the first three weeks of the season was too volatile, leading to eight turnovers in the first three games of 2022. But the results weren't all bad, as Jones led the league in completions of 20-plus air yards in Weeks 1-3.
Still, the high number of turnovers was causing the Patriots to lose games, so being more calculated in how they take chances downfield by incorporating the Zappe script is vital.
With the Patriots expecting their starting quarterback back under center, New England will host the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football at 8:15 pm ET at Gillette Stadium.