Andre Collins comes from a family so large it has its own summer basketball league. The Collins family could outnumber some high school football teams. It could probably beat some high school football teams it didn't outnumber.

Andre is playing outside linebacker for the Washington Redskins. Gerry is a running back for Penn State. Phil is a wide receiver redshirting at Penn State. Aaron and Jason are playing for Cinnaminson (N.J.) High School. And that's just the start of Team Collins.

This is the full roster:

Denise, 36; Charles, 34; Cynthia, 33; Valerie, 32; Cheryl, 30; Bill, 29; Lisa, 28; Barbara, 27; Brenda, 26; Sandra, 24; Fran, 23; Andre, 22; Gerry, 21; Dana, 19; Phil, 18; Jason, 16; Aaron, 15; Heather, 14; Christine, 11.

And there are no slouches in Charles and Frances Collins's brood. Valerie played basketball at Monmouth, Cheryl fenced at Seton Hall, Fran played basketball at Montclair State. When Collins Summer League action heats up, "the girls are right out there with the guys," Andre said. "My sisters are just as competitive. I don't think I could beat Fran in a race until I was probably 14 or 15 years old. Barbara, I couldn't beat her in basketball until I was 15 or 16 years old."

When the Collinses aren't competing against each other, they are rooting for each other. "The mother and father go out and support everything the kids do," said Jim Robinson, Andre's football coach at Cinnaminson High. "If more than one is playing, the parents split up. If one of the parents can't make it, one of the older brothers or sisters does."

These days all are rooting for Andre. He is the first rookie to start regularly for the Redskins since Darrell Green in 1983. He plays mostly in running situations, but when Monte Coleman couldn't play against Dallas because of a pulled hamstring, Collins played virtually the whole game.

"I was happy that I got to stay in on some critical downs and that I got an opportunity to get around the ball," he said. "There's a lot of room for improvement, naturally, but for a third game -- not bad, and better than last week and the week before."

There were ups: He got his first career sack. On the first play after the Cowboys had recovered Brian Mitchell's fumble of the second-half kickoff, he saved a touchdown by deflecting a pass in the end zone meant for tight end Rob Awalt.

There were downs: A first-quarter block by running back Emmitt Smith made him look like a flipped turtle as Daryl Johnston rumbled past for an eight-yard gain.

"I got caught talking to {safety} Todd Bowles, trying to get an assignment," Collins said. "I was kind of looking back and then I was looking in. When I looked up, the play was already coming. I tried to get upfield, and he just got underneath me. I was mad when it happened, it looked bad on film, and I have to correct it, but I'm not going to ride that low. Even the greatest players make mistakes. . . . I try to not make the same mistake twice."

As a rookie, though, "There's always something new to mess up," he said.

Green remembers the feeling, but he said Collins is more than holding his own. "I think he's made a great transition" from Penn State to the NFL. "As a whole, I really haven't seen him make a lot of rookie mistakes. And this game is certainly different than college. I don't care if you played at Notre Dame or anywhere else, this game is a lot faster and a lot more aggressive. It takes a lot of smarts to play it."

Collins got some of his smarts from Penn State linebackers coach Joe Sarra. After starting his college career as a cornerback, Collins switched to linebacker during spring practice of his sophomore year.

"That was a learning experience," he recalled. "I got to go against Steve Wisniewski {now a starting guard for the Los Angeles Raiders}. I was on my back about 20 yards down the field on every down."

But with Sarra's help, he learned. "The kid, number one, is intelligent," Sarra said. "And he's quick. He has quick hands and quick feet. He's good at playing off blocks. And he's a good tackler. He runs through people. He also would take criticism very well."

Apparently, there was a lot of it. "Joe Sarra would never let anything slide," Collins said. "You could make a sack, but if your stance was a centimeter off, he'd let you know it. When I'm doing things on the field now, I hear Joe Sarra's voice. Pretty psychotic, huh?"

But Collins listens to other voices too. There is Coleman's and Redskins linebackers coach Larry Peccatiello's and. . . .

"He's been real receptive," said Coleman, an 11-year veteran. "A lot of guys come in here as first- or second-round picks, and they'll look at you like, 'Hey, I've arrived. You don't have to tell me anything.' "

Collins has been showing that type of intelligence ever since the Redskins drafted him. Without a first-round choice, they took him in the second round. He was the 46th selection overall, and the first linebacker in Redskins history to be their first draft choice.

But he was something of a risk, Peccatiello saying the club had "great concern" at the time about Collins's weight. He had begun his senior season at Penn State at about 225 pounds and dropped to 217 by draft day. The Redskins wanted him to weigh 235.

So, that was what he weighed when he reported to training camp. More important, he reported to training camp on time while Ravin Caldwell, the projected starter at Collins's position, held out.

"He knew there was a good chance of being the starter, so he wanted to be in training camp on time, period," said Howard Shatsky, an associate of Collins's agent, Tony Agnone.

When Caldwell finally showed up in Carlisle, Pa., the knee he had injured near the end of last season still was giving him problems. He could not move Collins from the starting lineup. "Ravin not coming to camp put his {Collins's} foot in the door," Peccatiello said. "Ravin coming back just a little bit off with the knee problem put him a little bit further in the door. Then he just continued to play well."

And the crowd back in Cinnaminson, N.J., has been loving it.

"Right now everyone's real excited," Collins said. "I guess I'm giving them something to cheer about."