INDIANAPOLIS – Wide receiver Austin Collie and quarterback Curtis Painter shared something in common in 2009.
Both were members of the club's draft class. One week after the draft, both participated in a rookie camp, then the pair proceeded toward the regular season. Collie saw action in 16 games that year, five times as a starter. Painter played only in the final two games of the season.
In 2010, Collie was a nine-game participant, while Painter did not see the field. Collie had 118 receptions for 1,325 yards and 15 touchdowns during his first two years, while Painter attempted only 28 passes.
As the 2011 season hits game six, Painter has emerged as the club's starting quarterback. Collie continues to ply his trade, and he is one of four Colts receivers to have double-digit reception totals.
Collie cut his teeth to this point with Peyton Manning at the controls. It was invaluable experience for him, along with anyone else who caught passes. Collie now sees a growth in Painter, and he very much likes what he sees.
"A lot of people don't understand the difficulty of being a backup quarterback in this system behind Peyton (Manning)," said Collie. "It is difficult, and there's a lot that goes into it. I think you take any one of the quarterbacks that came out with Curtis and put them in this system and this circumstance, and they are going to struggle. Curtis is a tremendous athlete. He's a tremendous quarterback, and I really think that's starting to show. You can't judge a quarterback in this system, in this organization by the first two or three years. I'm still learning and everybody's still learning."
Observers of Collie might scratch their heads if they think he still is learning the club's offense after posting solid numbers in his first two seasons. The difficult offense is tough to digest mentally. It is much more challenging to implement on the field. Painter did not have the benefit of game exposure Collie did in 2009 and 2010, but he is growing now. Collie is an interested observer.
"(It's) just his overall confidence. You can just totally tell when he steps up to the line," said Collie. "I remember when he came in during the Pittsburgh game, his confidence coming to the line, making the calls, checking the plays. I think that confidence is just building game in and game out as he's getting more reps. I think that's the one thing that Curtis has needed is just reps. Obviously, you're not going to get many when you're behind the greatest of all-time. Reps are Curtis' friend right now, and he's gotten plenty of them so far. He's just going to keep on getting better, but he's playing excellent."
Collie is a worker just like Painter. The offense can be humbling even for those who approach it as dutifully as they both do. The Brigham Young product realizes how the growth pattern develops for young players.
"There is nothing like game reps," said Collie. "If you don't get the reps in the game, if you don't get that live feel, it's going to take you some time (to develop). It took me a full year to actually feel comfortable out there, a full year and a half. Curtis really hasn't gotten that, and he's getting that right now. The way he's performed the last two and a half games is incredible."
Painter has thrown for 281 and 277 yards in his first two starts, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Collie believes Painter's progress is substantial, and he likes how the quarterback comports himself on the field and away from it with his teammates.
"You just have to feel that (his progress is immense). He's one of the great guys in this locker room," said Collie. "He's one of those guys no matter what (anyone on the outside) says, he's not going to let that get to him. He's just going to keep working hard. He is a true leader. He leads in his own way, and we recognize that. We understand, in practice we've seen, what he's capable of, and he's showing that right now."
Collie is doing his part as the club continues with what has been a difficult start to a season. He believes the club is not far off from achieving what it set out to do.
"I think we're a series or two away from being 4-1 right now," he said. "I think we're really close, a lot closer than a lot of people give us credit for. It's not about one play or one series. We don't have to be good, we have to be great on that one series or that one play. I think that will set us over the edge. If we can play great for 60 minutes, I think we're going to be a phenomenal ballclub.
"(When) we get that first win, we're going to get out of the lull we're in. It's tough losing five games, especially your first five games. I've never been in this position before since I've been here. Coming in here as a rookie and being 14-0, it kind of seemed pretty easy. Now, we're on the opposite side of the spectrum. That win will give us a boost."