Michigan's sure-handed WR Nico Collins getting the drop on opposing secondaries

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — With Michigan receiver Nico Collins and cornerback Lavert Hill, it’s a case of he said, he said.

Whom to believe?

Collins, the 6-foot-4, 222-pounder claims he has the edge on 5-11, 182 Hill in practices. Hill says, not so fast. Collins has 10 catches for 206 yards, and his 20.6 per-catch average leads the team. He also has two touchdowns, most among the receivers and matched only by tight end Sean McKeon. Hill has one interception and two pass breakups this season.

Wide receiver Nico Collins runs down the sideline for a touchdown in the first quarter during Michigan's 52-0 win over Rutgers last Saturday.

That's the tale of the tape but not the whole story.

“Nico gives us problems every day,” Hill said Tuesday night after practice as the Wolverines (3-1, 1-1 Big Ten) prepare to face Iowa on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. “We also give him problems, too, just don’t get that wrong.”

Hill laughed heartily. But when asked who really has the edge in that matchup against such a physical mismatch like Collins, Hill didn’t give in.

“I’m going to go with the corners, I always do,” Hill said. “We’ve got a little edge right now.”

Collins, self-described as "chill," disputed this claim. Does he have the edge in practice?

“Kinda,” he said, sounding chill. “I do.”

He said the two hold each other to a different standard when they go against each other, and that leads to trash talking.

“Lavert is a great defensive back,” Collins said. “Going against him every day, you’re going to get better. So we talk trash each other. We just have fun.”

If he beats Hill, that can’t be the end of it. Hill always wants another shot, but Collins won’t give in.

“Once you catch a ball on Lavert, he get mad about it,” Collins said, smiling. “You just laugh. We just talk trash after. He said we’ve got to do it again. I’m done. I’m not coming back. I got my win for the night and keep walking.”

Practice is one thing, and games are quite another.

Collins, honorable mention All-Big Ten last season and also named the Wolverines’ most improved player, entered the season known as the guy who never drops anything thrown his way. He had no drops on 38 targets last season, lowest among returning Big Ten receivers.

While Hill described Collins as a physical player who knows how to use his size and has a “good knack for the ball,” he didn’t hesitate when asked to share his best trait.

“His hands,” Hill said. “His hands are pretty big and he don’t really drop the ball that much.”

Collins has two catches in last week’s rout against Rutgers, including a 48-yard touchdown from quarterback Shea Patterson. His other touchdown came in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State, and in the loss at Wisconsin, Collins, who at times looked frustrated that he was overlooked when open on routes, had three catches for 66 yards.

“(There were) times I was open,” Collins said. “I know Shea going to find me next time.”

Collins has 10 catches so far this season, Tarik Black has 12, and Ronnie Bell has 17 for 263 yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones missed the first two games and has gradually been worked into the offense.

First-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ new offense, designed to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers, had stalled the first three games in large part because of the abundance of turnovers. The Wolverines have nine through three games, including seven fumbles.

But with Gattis on the sideline during the Rutgers game for the first time, working closely with his position group, the receivers, the Wolverines had 335 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Patterson was able to spread the ball around, but as defenses get tougher going forward, starting with Iowa, Collins was asked if there should be more chances taken with him, for instance, because of the size mismatch he presents, as well as Black, who is 6-3, 215 pounds, and Peoples-Jones, who is 6-2, 208.

“I feel we’re always open,” he said. “I believe in our guys and Shea believes in us. I believe he can give us opportunities to make a play. I feel like we can go make a play.

A 52-0 victory over Rutgers came at the right time for Michigan coming off the 35-14 beatdown at Wisconsin, but the qualifier “yeah, but it’s against Rutgers” has to be used. Still, Michigan for the first time this season didn't fumble on its first drive and finally the offense got a chance in game speed to get into a rhythm. Collins is pleased with what the Wolverines did last Saturday but knows there has to be more.

Practices were more physical last week from all accounts, with Gattis saying the first team offense was going against the first team defense much like spring practice and camp, and Collins said the offensive players focused on details.

“As an offense we always knew what we’re capable of doing,” Collins said. “We just had to show it. Throughout those games, really didn’t show it. Had a lot of turnovers. That loss to Wisconsin — we don’t like losing. Having that feeling is kinda bad, (and) we don’t need that feeling again. We really focused on our details that week and it showed in that game.”

On that, Collins and Hill can agree.


Twitter: @chengelis