INDIANAPOLIS – For Kerry Collins, joining the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent is an opportunity to merge two different feelings.
Both of those feelings are good ones, and they mostly are related to people from his past.
Collins has experienced success at every level of football, including the two highest levels – college and the NFL.
Collins was a decorated performer at Penn State, winning the Davey O'Brien Award as a senior as the nation's top quarterback. Earlier in his career there, Collins played under the guidance of Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell, now the Colts' head coach. After his collegiate career, he was the fifth overall choice of the 1995 NFL Draft by Carolina. He was the first-ever draft choice by the expansion franchise. The person who pulled the trigger on his selection was General Manager Bill Polian, now the Colts' vice chairman.
Rarely does a player's career have such connections, and those connections played a role in Collins' choice to come out of retirement to try for another season. The decision merges a respect and regard for his previous mentors and for the Colts organization.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Colts," said Collins. "It's an organization I have a lot of respect for and obviously know very well having played in their division the past five years and playing against them several times. For me, there are a lot of ties here with Coach (Jim) Caldwell being my quarterbacks coach at Penn State and the Polians drafting me coming out of college in Carolina. (Colts Wide Receivers Coach) Frank Reich (is another tie). There is a whole host of people I have history with. I have a real affinity and respect for a lot that goes in this organization."
After playing for five years with the Titans, Collins announced his retirement. Like many competitors, there still remained an urge to compete.
"I was in Nashville. I had made the decision to retire, and I was at peace with that," said Collins. "Throughout all of it, the fire still burns. It never quit burning. I also knew it would take the right circumstances for me to come back and play. This is such a unique opportunity to come here and play for so many people that I have so much respect for and history with. It just became something I really wanted to do. I channeled back into that fire and burning I've got to be a part of this thing and help the team win football games."
When deciding to return, Collins was succinct in his reasoning.
"Really the biggest draw for me here was just being such a team that I have a lot of respect for and a lot of history with the people in this organization," he said. "(It is) really a chance to be a part of a great team, and to play with one of the greatest, if not the greatest quarterback, that's ever played this game."
Speaking Wednesday night, Collins acknowledged that his work was approaching quickly and that he was ready to begin it immediately.
"I feel like I'm going to get to work tonight, and I'm going to start grinding tonight. I'm going to bust my tail to get this offense down, and get ready to run this offense throughout the rest of the preseason…I'm coming in here ready to work, and whatever happens down the road is going to happen."
With the club playing Friday night at home against Green Bay and the following Thursday at Cincinnati, Collins hopes to see action soon.
"I think that would be beneficial for me, because obviously it's one thing to do it in a classroom and on the practice field," said Collins. "But I really need to get out there in a game and do it. I think that would definitely be a good thing for me, because who knows when it would be after that when I would get to play in a game…Right now my focus is on getting up to speed, getting in the classroom and getting ready to play, if I need to."
Like any player at any point during a career, Collins knows he needs work to get familiar with teammates and a specific system so a rhythm can be established. He also knows working on his personal fundamentals and honing those skills is important, too.
"It may take a little bit. I've been doing this for a long time, and I know it doesn't take me long to get back into the swing of things," he said. "I'm still in great shape, I stay in good shape. From a throwing standpoint, I've always been able to get back into the swing of things very quickly. I'm not worried about it."
He has played in different offenses for the better part of 20 years in college and the NFL. Though there are similarities in systems and schemes, Collins knows what he finds now will present something new.
"I think it will be the classroom stuff, learning the offense," he said of getting versed in an offense that is a new challenge. "It's going to be like a foreign language. The concepts may be the same, but they call it something completely different. That's going to be a challenge, and that's why I need to bust my tail, get in the classroom. Hopefully, I can get to the point where I can get out there and operate the offense efficiently sooner rather than later."
Collins will be a teammate now with four-time MVP Peyton Manning. The pair has intersected before, and they are two of the 12 quarterbacks ever to top the 40,000-yard career passing mark. Manning has thrown for 54,828 yards, while Collins has 40,441 yards. When the pair met in the 2010 regular-season finale in Indianapolis, it marked the first time in NFL history two quarterbacks shared the field together after having passed the 40,000-yard plateau. Collins has a high regard for Manning.
"We've crossed paths some, it's good," he said. "I think there's a small but good relationship that we've had over the years. We've bumped into each other, obviously after games, but at different times outside of football. I'm looking forward to working with him. I'm looking forward to seeing how one of the best who's ever played does it.
"I know this, I'm happy to be here and I have a lot of respect for this organization, Peyton (Manning), Coach Caldwell and the Polians. I'm going to try and help them in whatever role I can."