COLTS THURSDAY NOTEBOOK

Austin Collie looks to improve in his second season and Melvin Bullitt's perspective readies him for his new role.

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COLLIE CONTINUES TO IMPRESS

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Colts' receiver Austin Collie appears to have taken significant strides in the offseason that are now translating to on-the-field production.

In Week One at Houston, the second-year receiver caught 11 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Both the completions and yards were career-highs, besting last year's marks of eight catches and 97 yards, both at Tennessee on October 11.

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, and his predecessor Tony Dungy, each are known for saying the biggest jump a player usually makes is between the first and second year of their career. With as complicated as the Colts' offense is to learn, that may be doubly true for young players on that side of the ball.

"Systemically, he understands it a lot better," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes that takes a lot of pressure off of them. You see them play with a little bit more freedom because they are not out there thinking an incredible amount or more than normal so he can keep up with things.

"You can imagine with our system, with as much checking as we do with audibles and things of that nature, having to try to keep up with that in your first year. There are volumes of material to learn. Last year I think he was learning his way. This year he feels a little bit better, but the real trend is to see if he can continue to do it."

Collie not only had a great rookie season by Colts' benchmarks, but also by NFL standards.

He led NFL rookies in 2009 in receiving touchdowns with seven and tied for the most receptions with 60. He also finished fourth in franchise history in catches by a rookie behind Bill Brooks (65), Marvin Harrison (64) and Edgerrin James (62).

Collie tallied 676 yards during his rookie campaign, which was good for fifth in franchise history behind Brooks (1,131), Harrison (836), Andre Rison (820) and John Mackey (726), while his seven touchdowns tied him for third in Colts history behind Brooks (8), Harrison (8) and Mackey (7).

Caldwell also said that while this is the time most second-year players do progress, the real key is consistently showing improvement both week-in and week-out, but also, and maybe more importantly, year-in and year-out.

"One year does not a career make, but you look at a guy like Reggie (Wayne) who just year after year after year keeps getting better and better and better and keeps producing," Caldwell said. "I think that is the real test, a test over time. But he (Collie) is getting better."

That type of maturity comes in several forms, both on and off the field, in the film room and in preparation during the offseason.

For a second-year player who enjoyed much personal and team success in 2009, the 2010 season-opening loss at Houston was a new experience after a 14-2 regular season and a Super Bowl appearance last season.

"It was a little bit different than what I was accustomed to because the first year we came out and won 14 straight," Collie said. "It's a humbling experience, and it brings you back to reality. You realize just how hard it is to go 14-0.

"Many times we have been reminded around here that winning is not easy and it does take hard work. For the rookies both last year and now this year, we realize (winning) is not automatically going to happen. There are teams who are going to bring their best against us and we have to play that much better."

BULLITT IS THE NEXT MAN UP
With the Colts' announcement on Wednesday that safety Bob Sanders underwent surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon, the Colts turned to their philosophy of 'Next Man up,' and Melvin Bullitt will move into the starting role.

But Bullitt is no stranger to the starting lineup. The fourth-year safety has started 21 games for the Colts the past two seasons, including 12 games in the regular season last year and all three playoff games.

The special teams co-captain had a career-high 84 tackles in 2009, but knew that his role in 2010 most likely would be reduced with the return of the 2007 NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year.

Another player may have been discouraged, but according to Caldwell, Bullitt handled the situation well.

"He's a true professional," Caldwell said. "He didn't have any difficulty when Bob returned. These guys are so highly competitive that no one likes to be a back-up. They all desire to be number one, but he handled it in a way which was productive.

"He has a great perspective on things and he knows how to handle situations, difficult situations, and he's always ready to play. Unlike in some cases you may find some guys that get a little bit upset about the fact that they've been supplanted and thus kind of lose a bit of their focus and their preparation sort of lacks and wanes a little bit, and it shows in their performance. He's the anti-thesis of that. He prepares hard, he focuses and he gets ready. Obviously, he was able to step in the ballgame last week and play and play well."

After Sanders' injury, Bullitt stepped in with four tackles and a first-half interception which led to the Colts' first touchdown.

Bullitt downplays his role, saying he was simply doing what his coach told him to do.

"Everybody on the team has to be ready, at any time, at any situation, your number could be called," Bullitt said. "Coach Caldwell always says to prepare as if we're going to play the whole game, and that's what I try to do."

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