INDIANAPOLIS – Wide receiver Austin Collie reported to the Colts' 2011 training camp at Anderson University as a marked man.
He was not the target of observers for a misdeed, he was returning to the playing field after suffering two concussions in 2010 that limited his participation to nine games. His safety was a concern for Colts fans worldwide.
On a squad full of team-first players, Collie was not concerned chiefly for his personal well-being. He was intent on helping Indianapolis succeed to the level it had during his first two seasons.
Collie's first season, 2009, was the second Super Bowl season for the Colts. His fingerprints could be found among the reasons the Colts reached the title game. The 2010 season was successful for the team, though Collie was not on the field the full time. The Colts went 10-6 and made a record-tying ninth straight playoff appearance, while Collie contributed 58 receptions for 649 yards and eight touchdowns.
Collie emerged from last season as a 16-game participant while his team endured obstacle after adversity, mostly rooted in health.
"Probably the only positive thing that came from last season was I was able to go through the games and not have any reoccurrences (of past concussions)," said Collie looking back at last season that went well on a personal front, but not in the achievement category.
Like many players on roster last year, Collie had not experienced anything but success on the sport's highest level. He was among the majority of players who never had been associated with a losing season with Indianapolis. The 2-14 result was difficult on each player, and it was an educational process Collie wishes had not occurred.
"I think I learned more (than in previous seasons) about how hard it is to get a win in the NFL. You can't take the season like I had in my rookie year for granted," said Collie. "As a rookie, you kind of thought that was going to be a yearly occurrence. In reality, it was something special that happened that year, getting all the way to the Super Bowl. It's tough to do that. All the pieces have to be in the right places. After last year, I realized how important it is with each game and how important and hard it is to get a win."
Collie had 54 receptions for 514 yards and one score last season, the lowest seasonal totals of his three-year career. He labored along with his teammates in a season that provided few high notes. Indianapolis had three different starting quarterbacks and seven different offensive line configurations, while prominent talents like Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai missed significant action. Collie believes he and his returning teammates can be stronger in 2012 because of 2011.
"I definitely think so. You learn a lot about yourself and a lot about each other as teammates and as a team when you're at the lowest of lows," said Collie. "As a team, if we continue to fight like we did last season it would make it easier to overcome adversity this year, kind of use last year as a measuring stick. We were at the lowest of lows. We were in the worst situation possible. Now when we find ourselves in a trial or having to overcome an obstacle as a team, it will be easier because we are stronger from last season."
Collie has played strongly throughout his career because of his approach to the game. He cites that approach as a reason he has had achievement.
"I would say the number one thing that has helped me to this point is work ethic. I make sure that I work as hard as possible and gain as much knowledge as I possibly can," said Collie. "I think that knowledge and ethic makes up for maybe the lack of speed or any weakness I have. I think work ethic is the main thing that has helped get me to where I am now."
He has played the majority of his Colts career in the slot, and the results are quite evident. Still, others on the squad feel Collie should not be labeled as a 'slot' receiver, that his talents can make him more than that. Collie agrees with the assessments.
"I don't think I'm limited. I think I'm very capable of playing outside as well," said Collie. "Throughout my entire career, all I've known is the outside. I just started playing the slot when I came here. Obviously, I love the slot, and love playing in the slot. There are a lot of balls to be had in the slot, but I wouldn't mind playing on the outside as well."
Collie feels he was a little bit off last year, though he cannot pinpoint a reason why. One thing he is sure of is the groove he was in for the first six games in 2010 when he had 44 receptions. He would like to replicate that early part of his second season in his upcoming fourth year.
"My second year before I had my concussions, I was kind of on a roll and was in a groove. This past year it took me a little time to get back to my old self," said Collie. "I don't know if it possibly were because of the concussions or that I hadn't played in a while and was trying to get back in a rhythm. That's something I want to get back to, that second year, making big-time plays and catching the ball when it comes my way. There were a couple of times last year when I should have had some balls that I would usually (caught)."
Collie will join his teammates again as a season presents new challenges. The offense will be different with a new head coach and coaching staff. Teammates will be different, too, which is the nature of the sport. What will not change is the nature in which Collie approaches his fourth season, a total that surprises him.
"It's very hard to believe three years have gone by, very much so," said Collie. "I still feel like a rookie. I still feel like I just got here and I have a lot to learn. It's exciting knowing that I am four years into my career and still feel that way."