ASHBURN, Va. -- Landon Collins heard the criticism: He's an in-the-box safety only; he can't cover. He also wants others to hear him -- loud and clear -- when they place labels on him.
The newest Washington Redskins safety, who signed a six-year deal worth up to $84 million, dismissed his doubters.
"I laugh, honestly, because I'm not just an in-the-box safety," Collins said. "I make plays in the box, yeah, but I make plays also other places. People see me in the box because that's what teams ask me to do sometimes."
There are two notions in the Redskins organization when it comes to Collins: Even if he's an "in-the-box" safety, so what? The team considers him elite in that area. But there also are those who say he can, and will, show more coverage skills in this defense.
Collins' strength has been playing in the box, or at least close to the line of scrimmage. With the Giants last season, Collins often aligned within five yards of the line, but in different areas depending on the situation. Sometimes he would play on the edge; other times he would line up inside as a middle linebacker. Collins also covered tight ends in the slot and running backs.
There were times he had issues -- against Chicago last season for example, he gave up a 46-yard catch to running back Tarik Cohen. On the play, Collins anticipated him running an out route from a stack formation -- as he had on the previous series. This time, Cohen turned it up and Collins was caught flat-footed. He was caught flat-footed on another Cohen route when the ball was intercepted or it would have been a touchdown.
"I can find a lot of safeties who were beat by Cohen on a wheel route," said former NFL safety Matt Bowen, now part of ESPN's "NFL Matchup" show. "He settled his feet way too early and Cohen took it upfield. Cohen is an elite player and tough matchup for any safety or linebacker."
In the same game Collins prevented a screen pass to Cohen with quick reaction and defended backs and tight ends on routes, forcing the ball elsewhere. Against the Redskins last season, Collins used leverage to defend a pass to Chris Thompson by funneling him inside to his help, preventing an open throw and leading to a pass breakup. And, yes, there were times quick-twitch tight ends or backs beat him.
The overall narrative, though, bugs Collins.
"Pretty much it's people that don't know what they're talking about," he said. "But when I get the opportunity to show that I can play different spots, I will.
"They already voiced it before I even got here: We're going to use you as a safety. They're going to play me in different positions, but I'm majority going to be safety."
In other words, he doesn't anticipate being aligned in a linebacker role in certain coverages; he was a dime linebacker last season for the Giants. He said he was used differently last year under coordinator James Bettcher than he was the previous season with then-coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Collins said when he met with the Redskins' defensive coaches he liked their plans for him. Whether that's initial sweet talk for their newest player or not remains to be seen. But Collins liked the chatter. He said he'd be used in quarters coverage or Cover 3.
"Basically what I did in Coach Spags' defense," Collins said. "Kind of be that roll-down safety or that pack safety that's kind of that quarter safety that always have the run responsibility and also have to be on his Q's for the pass."
The Redskins are banking a lot of money that Collins and his supporters indeed are right. Bowen said it's also on the coaches to use him properly. Every safety -- every player -- has a flaw. The key is to limit how often those flaws can be exposed.
"He's not a guy you want manned up in the slot; that's not where you put him," Bowen said. "If you did that as a coach, you're not doing your job. His value is playing top down on the ball. You want him to create chaos for the opposing offense, whether it's driving on an underneath throw or matching up on a tight end in the seam, but more important coming downhill [against] the run."
Coach Jay Gruden said he saw Collins defend Redskins tight end Jordan Reed well last season; indeed, Reed caught one pass for 7 yards when matched against Collins in their only meeting. But the No. 1 attraction to Collins' game is his play against the run and his tackling ability. Gruden called him a tone-setter.
"We have been looking for that type of player on our defense for a while," Gruden said. "I just know whenever you put on a Giants film, you feel No. 21, you just know where he is. You have to account for him in the running game and he's going to make a bunch of plays and set the tone for that defense. He's done it many a time. There are certain guys you can feel on tape. He may not lead the team in tackles, but his presence is felt and it has a major impact on what the offenses are doing across from him."