It didn't click right away for Anthony Collins.
Despite playing five seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals last year, Collins entered this season looking at becoming more of a professional. It's not like he wasn't good. Collins has the natural ability of any offensive tackle in the NFL. This year it changed.
"It hit me when I didn't play the second half in Baltimore. My family was there. My friends were there. And they're asking me, 'Why didn't you play in the second half?' I wasn't a professional. I wasn't a professional in my second year. I was just thinking my talents would take over. I wasn't watching any film. This year is the most film I've ever watched. High school. College. Combined. It works."
Collins will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Cincinnati obviously improved when moving Andrew Whitworth to left guard following Clint Boling's injury. Collins, who didn't allow a quarterback sack in 330 plays as a pass blocker (had 592 total snaps, but 262 were as a run blocker) against names like Julius Peppers, Robert Matthis and even Terrell Suggs, replaced Whitworth at left tackle (including the regular season opener).
In other words, as Collins enters free agency, you can expect him to get well-paid in a passing league that covets good pass blockers on the quarterback's blindside. So who knows if the former '08 fourth rounder will return.
"It's a bittersweet moment with the loss ... seeing everybody pack up. Some tears. Hugging each other. Hugging the coaches. This is a family," Collins said. "All the way from April when we got together, we've been bleeding together, sweating together, spending a lot of time together. So when it ends like this again, the first round of the playoffs, it hurts, it hurts. The sweet thing about it, personally, I got better as a person, a leader and football player and it's going to pay off real well for me."