What a difference a year has made for running back Alex Collins.
At this point last summer, Collins was a relatively unknown back for the Seattle Seahawks hoping to earn his way onto the 53-man roster. Seattle eventually released Collins at the end of the preseason, and he found his way to Baltimore where he enjoyed a breakout season.
Collins, 23, is now entering the season as the clear-cut starter for the first time of his career. The third-year running back has earned his spot atop Baltimore's depth chart and his top priority is maintaining the drive that allowed him to get to this point.
"I always go back to where I started and where I am now, and I use that as my motivation," Collins said. "No matter the day, no matter how tired I am, I think to myself, at this time last year, I didn't know my position, where I was, where I'd end up. So just having that security behind it is definitely my motivation to keep it this way and keep pushing forward and keep trying to get better instead of being complacent."
The Ravens initially signed Collins to the practice squad, but then moved him to the active roster after one week. He seized the starting job a few games later and went on to rush for 973 yards and six touchdowns on 212 carries.
With a full season as the starter, Collins has set his sights on crossing the 1,000-yard threshold.
"As a running back, I think that's important. Every year, to me personally, that's one of the goals that I set: just to hit 1,000 yards, and I've been doing this back since high school," Collins said. "With that being said, I don't want to take that personal goal and get ahead of myself and just think about trying to get yards, trying to get yards, thinking about the big play, because the games are situational."
Another change for Collins is that he's put on some bulk. Running backs take a beating over the course of the season, and Collins has added some weight to withstand that. He's listed at 210 pounds, but he told reporters that he played last season closer to 200 pounds.
"I just put on five extra pounds just to see how that feels, and I'm moving around great," he said. "I've still got my stamina, as well as more strength, so I just look forward to seeing how it looks in pads."
The most common question Collins has faced from reporters this offseason is whether he's ready to be a No. 1 running back. He won't catch anyone by surprise this year, and teams will gameplan to stop him.
Some pundits have already doubted Collins' ability to build off what he did last year, and Head Coach John Harbaugh pointed out a piece from NFL.com that had Collins ranked as the league's 26th-best running back.
"I think he's kind of mad right now, to be honest with you," Harbaugh said. "I did mention it to him, and he had seen it. That'll motivate you a little bit."
Collins knows there are questions about his ability to be the workhorse running back. But he's had questions about his ability since he came into the NFL, and he had a piece of advice for all the fantasy football owners out there.
"Draft me now before it's too late, guys," he said.