LINCOLN — Maliek Collins is training in Phoenix and headed soon for Indianapolis, but one piece of business remains at Nebraska for the former Husker defensive tackle.
Between returning from the Foster Farms Bowl and the start of workouts for the NFL combine, Collins never got back to clean out his locker in the Osborne Complex.
“I still haven’t done that yet,” he said. “I probably have a bag sitting there. Probably one of the young guys tried to move in.”
Collins was at the start of a locker row that included Sam Foltz, Jordan Westerkamp and Nate Gerry. All would have been together again as seniors in 2016 had Collins not ended his NU career by declaring for the NFL draft. The symbolism of cleaning out his NU locker gave Collins a twinge of trepidation.
“I really didn’t want to go through that,” he said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling leaving Nebraska. I’ll wait until pro day.”
As hard as it might be, Collins has needed to let go and turn his full attention to training at the EXOS performance center in Phoenix. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is in the final stages before traveling to the NFL combine on Feb. 24.
“It’s going great,” Collins said. “I’m really down here just focusing on being the best me I can be. Just focused on my craft. Whether it’s running the 40 or jumping the vertical or the broad jump, just maximizing my ability so I can do my best and peak at the right time.”
The combine would be a great place to do it, with all the important eyes watching. His testing and interviews at Lucas Oil Stadium will provide a little clearer picture of where he might fit in the draft. Current projections range from late first round to the third.
“It’s a little bit of anxiousness getting ready for it, but it’s not too bad,” Collins said.
The workouts have certainly been a good way to divert his attention.
A Fox Sports PROcast video clip on Twitter this week showed Collins squatting 785 pounds, and he believes he has made improvements with his bench. Part of his EXOS training is working on all facets of the 40-yard dash, from start to finish, and Collins looks forward to “putting the whole thing together” and running a good time in Indianapolis.
Nebraska fans know about Collins and his first few steps, which helped him total eight sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hurries over three seasons and 26 career starts. ESPN analyst Todd McShay wrote that an “explosive first step” shows up on tape when he had Collins going at No. 26 overall in his first mock draft in mid-December, before Collins had announced his NFL intentions.
Collins simply says he has a good feel for where his official run, shuttle and jump marks in Indianapolis will end up.
“I think I showed I can move well in the past,” he said. “So I don’t know that athletic ability is anything where there’s a knock on me.”
Throw in good use of hands, footwork and leverage — all helpful in his past life as a state champion heavyweight wrestler in Kansas City — and Collins thinks he is ready to show a total package to NFL personnel.
“I believe so,” he said. “I feel confident in my ability.”
Collins, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, offensive tackle Alex Lewis and fullback Andy Janovich will head the list of Husker hopefuls in the NFL draft. Valentine also left NU after his junior season and is training at EXOS in Phoenix.
The combination of playing as a true freshman in 2013 and leaving early made Collins’ stay short, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye easier, which he did in the Huskers’ winning locker room after the Foster Farms Bowl.
“It was pretty cool,” Collins said. “They were excited about it. I didn’t see anybody too mad about it.”
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