Bengals right tackle Collins confident he will be ready for Week 1

La’el Collins said there is no reason to be concerned over the back issue that has him sidelined to open his first training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The team’s new right tackle landed on the Non-Football Injury list last week because of a back issue that surfaced earlier this month away from football activities.

Collins said Friday he doesn’t have a timetable for a return but he’s confident he will be ready for the start of the season, and there is a plan in place to get him on the practice fields before then.

“I feel good,” Collins said. “Every day is getting better, definitely encouraging. I’m excited, can’t wait to get back to ball. …It was just something that kind of just flared up a little bit. But I think the biggest thing is we’ve got a great plan in place and every day, just stacking chips.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor indicated earlier this week that Collins had experienced back issues in the past, but the organization was aware of his injury history and felt comfortable still signing him.

The former Dallas Cowboys right tackle hasn’t played a full season 2018 (he missed one game in 2019 because of a knee injury). He spent the 2020 season on injured reserve because of hip surgery, and then was suspended five games last year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy after dealing with neck and other injuries in preseason.

“Those are things we always research to know everything about the player,” Taylor said. “It hasn’t been a concern for us. Communication with him has been great. It’s on us to make sure we protect these players, especially these veterans who have accumulated a lot of reps over the course of their career. We need them for the 17-game season, plus the playoffs so it’s on myself and Matt Summers to make sure we protect these guys from themselves as training camp gets started here and we’ll get them in here at the right time.”

Collins said that is his full focus, trying to get ready for a full season.

He played 47 of 48 regular-season games for the Cowboys during the 2017 through 2019 campaigns, but his 2016 season ended with a Week 3 toe injury that required surgery after he slid into a starting left guard job as a rookie in 2015. Collins moved to right tackle full time in 2017.

“Just taking care of this thing on the front end because we’re gonna have a long season and we got a long way to go,” Collins said. “… I’m just being smart. First game is on September 11. So we’ve got a little time to get this thing under control and continue to work towards where we’re headed.”

Asked whether he needs training camp to get ready for the season, Collins said he can’t improve if he’s not practicing, but the key is doing what he can but not overdoing it.

The Bengals signed Collins to a three-year deal during a recruiting trip to Cincinnati immediately after the Cowboys waived him in March. The move reunited him with former Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who played a key role in getting him here.

Collins participated in the team’s offseason workout program this spring, so he’s caught up on the system and playbook, and that prior relationship with Pollack has him feeling more at ease with the expectations once he’s on the field.

Although he’s doing some rehab work off to the side, Collins also has used some of his time watching the offensive line in position group drills.

“For me just getting all the mental reps that I can and focusing on the details and helping my teammates as much as I can,” Collins said. “For me, being a competitor and a football player, obviously I hate missing time but I think you’ve got to be smart about your approach and everything that you do. So obviously, knowing the system and you know, getting all the mental reps I can definitely helps me and makes me feel better about each and every day.”

Isaiah Prince and D’Ante Smith are splitting the first-team snaps at right tackle while Collins is out, and Prince was involved in the first mini-scuffle of camp Thursday when he and rookie defensive end Jeffrey Gunter got into an intense battle that ended up with some punches.

Collins said offensive linemen are built not to take anything from anyone, and he looks forward to bringing that mentality to the field whenever he gets back to work.

“(The goal is) to play lights out, play my style of football, physical, nasty and give everything I can each and every week,” Collins said.

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