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Aviante Collins has what Vikings need to play left guard: athleticism and a 'nasty streak'

Minnesota Vikings tackle Aviante Collins (76) against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoff football game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Jan. 14, 2018. Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. — As soon as Vikings running back Roc Thomas caught a screen pass from Trevor Siemian on Saturday, Aug. 11, against the Broncos in Denver, his eyes got big as he spotted a pair of 300-pound teammates in front of him to clear the way. A few blocks later, he ran untouched for an electrifying 78-yard touchdown.

While the speedy Thomas got the glory, and rightfully so, a closer look shows the sequence started with an outstanding kickout block by left guard Aviante Collins. Seventy-eight yards later, Collins was the first person to reach Thomas in the end zone, showcasing surprising speed to get there.

Not bad for a guy who had never played on the interior of the offensive line before last week.

"I feel like every player in this league has something special about them," said Collins, a second-year tackle out of Texas Christian who moved inside after starting left guard Nick Easton's season-ending neck surgery. "Somebody is super strong. Somebody is super smart. Somebody has long arms or good feet or something like that. My thing is that I'm athletic. I use those gifts that God gave me to my advantage."

Collins, 25, will get more reps at guard throughout training camp, and should compete with Tom Compton and Danny Isidora for the starting job at left guard.

"I was just sitting there one day, and I said, 'Let's look at him at guard and see what he can do,' " coach Mike Zimmer said of the position change. "He's a very, very athletic guy. It happens a lot quicker in there, so that's kind of the thing we have to find out about with him."

It hasn't been a seamless transition for Collins, though his athleticism has made things easier. At the 2017 NFL Combine, he was the top performer at his position in both the 40-yard dash (4.81 seconds, the third-fastest time ever by an offensive lineman) and bench press (34 reps), and he parlayed that into a spot on the active roster last season despite being undrafted out of TCU.

Now with some experience under his belt, Collins has a simple objective heading into this season.

"Just to make a name for myself and not take crap from anybody," he said. "They brought me here for a reason. They saw something in me that I didn't see in myself sometimes. That's why I'm here."

Zimmer has reiterated throughout camp that Collins has "a nasty streak" that makes him a perfect fit on the offensive line.

That character trait is something Collins has been perfecting since he was a kid.

"You can't grow up in south Houston without a nasty streak," Collins said. "I'm not trying to say I'm from a bad neighborhood or I grew up in the hood or anything like that. Just growing up in south Houston, I knew if I didn't have that nasty streak, people were going to push me over, and I'm not going to let anybody push me over."

As Collins put it, he's not here to make friends, at least not on the field.

"It's definitely a switch," Collins said. "We can be best friends outside of football. We can go grab something to eat together. We can have conversations and everything like that. Just when I'm on the field I've got a goal to accomplish. I promised my family something, and I'm not there yet."

What was that promise?

"It's everybody's childhood dream to be able to buy their mom a house," Collins said. "I'm trying to do that, and I'm not going to stop until I get there."

In the meantime, Collins is focused on the process, knowing that if he continues to get better, everything else will work itself out.

"There's always room for improvement," Collins said. "There's a lot of people talking about the good plays, or the screen play, saying, 'You ran downfield. You looked fast.' I'm thinking about the plays I got beat on and the things I can improve on. I need to continue to make myself better to help this team out."

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