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John DeShazier: LSU's La'el Collins looking at Senior Bowl as another chance to improve

Top offensive lineman didn't need to take part this week

Mobile, Ala. – Possibly, La'el Collins could've skipped the Reese's Senior Bowl, totally placed his fate in the hands of a personal trainer at a workout performance center where he only would've prepared for drills that will be performed at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and still have been a first-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

The 6-foot-5, 321-pound former LSU offensive lineman already has considerable, impressive skins on the wall – an All-American as a senior, the Jacobs Blocking Trophy signifying the SEC's top offensive lineman as voted by the league's coaches, 38 career starts in 45 games, including starting at left guard as a sophomore and at left tackle in his junior and senior seasons.

But when the invite was issued to play in the Senior Bowl, Collins leapt at the opportunity.

"I'm a competitor and I look to get better," he said. "This is another chance for me to elevate my game, with NFL scouts out here.

"Who wouldn't want to be here? Why wouldn't you want to be there? This is another opportunity for you, and I'm taking advantage of it."

It's the same approach he carried into his senior season at LSU.

Collins could've entered the NFL draft after his junior season, and likely still would've been a high-round pick. But the chance to improve drew him back to Baton Rouge.

"That's the reason why I stayed," he said. "(And) I came out here to get better, I came out here to go against quality opponents to help myself rise as an offensive tackle. So coming out here each and every day, competing with the best of the best is only going to make me better."

The Senior Bowl, in fact, has been a place in recent history where top-level offensive lineman have gone to showcase themselves and have helped enhance or solidify their draft positions.

Offensive tackles Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks in the 2013 draft (by Kansas City and Philadelphia, respectively), played in the Senior Bowl. So did guards Zack Martin of Notre Dame and Joel Bitonio of Nevada, the Nos. 16 and 35 picks in last year's draft, by Dallas and Cleveland.

Collins will have the chance to make an impression at left guard and left tackle this week.

"(Left tackle or left guard) doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'm just fitting in where I need to be, but I'm trying to get better at left tackle.

"You've just got to be ready to be able to fit in wherever you need to be. A guy like me, I feel I can play inside and outside so I look to fit in wherever they need me."

Collins said Tuesday that the competition level is high at practice, but that playing at LSU and in the SEC was sufficient preparation.

"I went against great competition in practice, I went against great competition in games and some of these guys are familiar," he said. "Being here is another opportunity to go against them.

"You've just got to come out here with a better sense of urgency, a better sense of awareness and just come out here and get after it (Wednesday)."

It'll be another day of Collins engaging the competition that he could've avoided.

Associated Press Photos from the 2015 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Tuesday, January 20, 2015.

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