In the most important preseason game, La’el Collins matched up against Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders, who was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. In the season opener he worked against New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a noted Dallas Cowboys killer.This Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Denver Broncos, he gets Von Miller, who was the runnerup to Mack in 2016 and has 73.5 career sacks in 89 games.
“I think he’s a really good player,” Collins said. “Fast, got a bunch of different counter moves and stuff like that. I think he’s a good player.”
Better than good. Some might call him the best pass-rusher in the NFL. He did not have a sack in the Broncos’ season opener, but he was disruptive just the same. He had 13.5 sacks last year and has 18 games with at least two sacks.
“He’s one of those guys who has affected games probably since he was growing up here in South Dallas,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s an incredible athlete. He has a great feel for rushing the passer. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s got a hunger to get there and he seems to do it again and again and again at this level with a lot of attention. He’s a great football player.”
Garrett said the Cowboys don’t have a player to simulate Miller’s jump at the snap of the ball in practice. Collins is making just his second start at right tackle. There is a lot he is still learning about the position. For three seasons DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks, was Miller’s teammate in Denver.
What would be his advice to Collins?
“When you think about Von, you think about speed,” Ware said. “You think about a guy bringing a lot of pass rush moves. And smart. Smart player. I know La’el Collins, he’s a younger guy. He wants to be aggressive, but I’d just tell him to play smart and not go out there trying to use his brute strength against these guys, especially in pass rush. Just know that it’s not going to be a one-time thing that a guy is going to do something.”
The Cowboys can help Collins by maintaining balance in their attack. If they fall behind and have to pass to get back in the game, that plays into Miller’s strengths. The Cowboys want to run the ball, but Denver allowed just 64 rushing yards in their first game.
“I understand that everybody is good,” Collins said. “In this league the one second you think you’re going against some guy you never heard of you’re going to get beat. You’re going to get your ass whooped. For me, take it one week at a time and go out on game day and play one play at a time. That’s how I approach it.”