INDIANAPOLIS – The quarterback position for the Colts will be manned by a time-tested veteran on Sunday when the team meets Houston in the 2011 regular-season opener.
The individual involved may not be Peyton Manning, but Kerry Collins is a veteran of many NFL skirmishes.
Collins will be appearing in his 196th career regular-season outing, his 203rd counting post-season action. This will be his 178th career start, and, obviously, his first in the Colts' blue and white.
Though he joined the team on August 25, Collins has reached a level of comfort in the club's offense that has been operated by Manning since 1998.
Collins has worked hard to pick up the basics, personnel and nuances of the attack, and he has been sequestered with members of the coaching staff in preparing for the opener.
His teammates see a confident player with whom they will share the huddle. They know the work he has done, and they have been a part of learning process as well. That workman-like approach on and off the field by all parties involved is the only way to attack this weekend's challenge.
Tight end Dallas Clark, who himself returns to the field after missing the final 10 games of 2010, knows the importance of assisting Collins in every way possible.
"I think it's necessary. He has a lot on his plate for a guy to come in here," said Clark. "If it was just a receiver, or you just had one position, it would be a different story. But he has to learn everyone's position, the protections, the routes, and he has a lot on his plate. Luckily, he's been around the block a few times, and it's not too stressful for him. He knows how to handle it. The more the veterans can help him, the better."
Clark knows full well how difficult the Indianapolis offense can be. He joked two years ago about how when he was a rookie he would study the playbook at night, go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to study even more. In the morning he would grab the playbook on the way to the office and say, 'All right, let's see what mistakes I make today.'
Clark is impressed with the pace at which Collins has adapted already.
"It's remarkable, it really is," said Clark. "It's very impressive. Me and Reggie (Wayne) were joking about it, because it took me about three years to learn this offense, and he's somehow learning it in about three weeks. He's definitely on a crash-course, but he's doing a great job. I think everyone's doing a good job of making sure they do their job to help him out."
A significant part of the crash-course is the on-field practice that started on Monday and continued later throughout the week. Clark commented on Wednesday about the work and study that will continue up until travel day on Saturday.
"Every day and every practice we get is better, and I'm looking forward to a good week of preparation," said Clark. "Every time we can get out there with him is better. I'm looking forward to going out and playing with him, and he's going to do a good job for us."
Count five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday as another teammate impressed with the strides Collins has made. Saturday plays an obvious key role in the offense. He and Manning have made 170 career starts together since moving to center in 2000. That total is the most in NFL history by a quarterback-center tandem, and Sunday will mark his first outing with Collins under center.
"I'm real comfortable," said Saturday. "He's worked very hard. He's grabbed it much faster than I thought he would, and I've been impressed with how hard he's worked to get the offense. Any kind of correction that we make or we talk about, he makes it right away. We changed something in the Cincinnati game after the first series, and he seems to just get it. The guy's been around forever, and I've got a ton of confidence in what he's done. He's taken a lot of teams to winning games, so I don't have any fears that he can't get his job done. I know he'll do what he needs to do."
The playing field at Reliant Stadium will prove to be a true testing ground. Saturday feels the technical aspects of work this week will be essential as final components in Collins being ready.
"I think now it's just communication," said Saturday. "Understanding as you come out of the huddle, or as you get to the line of scrimmage, the way everything is reiterated, how the plays come in, your snap count, your cadence, your rhythm of all those things changes a little bit. We just have to work hard throughout the week to get that right."
Offensive guard Joe Reitz will be making his first career start with the club. He is 195 career appearances shy of Collins' total, but both will be making a first-ever Indianapolis playing appearance. Reitz understands what is needed from him, and he has noticed Collins' veteran nature.
"Kerry has been great. He is a professional in the truest since," said Reitz. "He's been around the game a long time…It's our job to make sure that we protect him well on Sunday."
As for Collins, this is not the first time he has had to learn a system quickly. It happened to him once when playing for Tennessee in 2006. Collins signed with the Titans as an unrestricted free agent on August 26 of that year, then started on September 10. He has employed experience from that time for this time with Indianapolis.
"One time in Tennessee I was (late in joining a team)," said Collins. "I came in fairly late in the preseason, so I've drawn on that experience, but I've had to learn things quickly over the years. That's just part of being a quarterback. I've put the work in, and I'm putting the work in to get ready to play. I know how to do that. I've done that for a long time. I'm just leaning on all those skills and experience that I have doing that, and try to apply it this week."