Rooting for Collins to beat his demons
Posted: Thursday December 16, 1999 11:29 AM
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Of all the interesting stories in the NFL this year, one has gotten lost. Strange, too, because it's happening in New York.
A year ago, I met Kerry Collins in the New Orleans Saints training-center locker room for an interview. I like the guy. When he was drafted fifth by Carolina in the expansion team's first draft in 1995, Collins, the former Penn State quarterback, was totally overwhelmed by the pressures and expectations of being the cornerstone of the franchise. He had some success, helping the Panthers to the NFC title game in 1996, but his Carolina days ended messily when he asked out of the starting lineup 14 months ago. The Panthers fired him, and he had an inglorious couple of months flopping around for the Saints at the end of the '98 season. Then the Saints said they had no interest in retaining him. So two of the league's worst offenses, in the space of four months, dumped him.
Anyway, when I met him in New Orleans, he was tentative, fast-talking, nervous, and -- I thought -- totally devoid of confidence. Some of that behavior would be explained in January, when he entered a rehab facility in Kansas to treat alcoholism.
There weren't many people in the league who wanted to touch Collins then. But Giants GM Ernie Accorsi did. He made the bold move of handing Collins huge money (four years, $17 million) when there was scant competition for the quarterback with other teams. I thought, and still do, that Accorsi spent foolishly for Collins; if the signing was a mistake, and the player hadn't done much to give anyone faith in him to that point, then the $5 million bonus would hang around the Giants' salary cap like a millstone. There simply wasn't any reason to give Collins all that cash.
Having said that, Accorsi does deserve credit for sticking his neck out on Collins when no other front-office people in the league would. It's early. Collins has to show more than he's shown on two Sundays. But Collins is the first guy the Giants have had since Phil Simms who looks the genuine item at quarterback. On Sunday in Buffalo, the Collins I saw was a confident field-reader, a strong-armed guy whose mechanics didn't look screwed up anymore.
"You know what I like?'' coach Jim Fassel told me. "I like the fact that Kerry is comfortable throwing the ball away. Sometimes the best pass you can make is when you throw it away, but you've got to be confident in your ability to do that.''
I like the Collins I saw after the game. Thoughtful. Not jumpy. He spoke like a leader speaks, and that's something the Giants have needed for a long time.
Now on to your questions ...
Given Dan Rooney's latest comments on Bill Cowher and his staff, what do you think of the chances of Cowher leaving? Also, who would be the candidates to replace him? I know Dom Capers' name would come up, but what about Gary Kubiak, or Rick Neuheisel, who worked with Kordell Stewart at Colorado?
-- Pat Caironi, Pittsburgh
I keep hearing Cowher might leave, and if he leaves, the Steelers will definitely look at Capers, as thoughtful and studious a coach as the game has. Now, when I was in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, Rooney made it crystal-clear to me that Cowher was staying. Cowher made it crystal-clear he was staying. If Cowher stays, he has to get his fire back. I don't know where it is, but he works the sidelines now like he's anemic. Candidates? Capers, yes. Neuheisel's not Rooney's type. Too flashy. Kubiak would be an interesting candidate, because he's the private, Noll-esque type the Steelers prefer.
At this point it looks as though Washington will have the first selection in the draft next year, courtesy of the Saints. How much meddling in the draft process do you expect from Dan Snyder? I just have a bad feeling about this. Am I justified?
-- Barb Allen, Atlanta
You're putting the cart pretty far before the horse. I believe if Snyder changes coaches, there's a good chance he will also change personnel man Vinny Cerrato, and one thing he'll look for is a coach/personnel czar. And one of those guys -- Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Belichick -- is not going to take the job if he thinks Dan Snyder will be in the draft room meddling like a Steinbrenner. Now, if he meddles like Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, that's fine. Jones looks like he's in the middle of things, and he is, but he doesn't tell his scouts who to like.
I would say this, Barb: Be happy you have the first pick in the draft if the Saints lose their last three. Don't be looking for the negatives in it. For free (the deal to get the pick last year was a steal), you're going to be getting the best player in the draft next April.
Do you think the Dolphins can be a better team without Dan Marino, just as the Lions are a better team without Barry Sanders? They looked good with Damon Huard at QB while Marino was out. The defense even played better. I think the defense is slipping because they think Dan has the ball and can save them.
-- Tod Sanderson, Hamden, Conn.
You know my gut feeling on this, Tod? You have a good chance of being right. Not that Marino is the 800-pound gorilla. But just as the Lions now don't have to worry one whit about getting the ball to Sanders X number of times, the Dolphins sans Marino would not have to worry about putting the ball in his hands X times. Believe me, that's been an issue over the years there. This week Jimmy Johnson looks like a guy who detests his quarterback situation because he knows it's one of the things dragging his team down right now.
I'm not saying the Dolphins will be better with Damon Huard. That's foolish. But I am saying it will be interesting to see the Dolphins -- whoever's coaching them next year -- without the focus of the free world on this one great player rather than on the team as a whole.
You were at the Giants-Buffalo game, right? Didn't it look to you like Doug Flutie couldn't throw an accurate pass if his life depended on it? Why is Flutie immune to criticism by the national media about his obviously inferior play this season? Does a scramble now and then make up for his inability to find his receivers?
-- John Kessel, Raleigh, N.C.
I am one of those national media types who really likes what Flutie's doing. Now, he was awful against the Giants. We all saw that. But look at his body of work -- 24 starts -- since he came back to the NFL. In those 24 starts, Flutie has:
272 more passing yards than Troy Aikman has over his last 24 starts.
Two more touchdown passes than Mark Brunell has over his last 24 starts.
Seven fewer interceptions than Brett Favre has over his last 24 starts.
One more win than Favre.
More rushing yards than any quarterback except Steve McNair.
Now, if Flutie ends the year with three bombs like the Giants game, I go into the off-season weighing whether I want to trade Rob Johnson or keep him around to battle Flutes for the QB job next summer.
Using the formula of can team "A" beat team "B" for rankings, I am worried about my St. Louis Rams. The team I saw take the field in Week 14 did not look like a champion. Please don't think I am putting down one of the truly remarkable seasons in history, but I am worried. If the same Rams team that played New Orleans shows up Sunday at the TWA Dome, Kerry Collins and crew could skate out of St. Louis with their win streak intact. Is there an apparent mental letdown going on here or am I just spoiled by the unbelievable play from earlier in the year?
-- Paul J. Davis, Salem, Ill.
You are spoiled, Paul, but there's something else going on. When a team explodes in the beginning of a season, defenses take some time to get used to it. Now defenses know what the Rams are doing. They're throwing little wrinkles at them. For instance, a couple of teams have spied Marshall Faulk. That means they try to have a player follow Faulk wherever he goes, so he's not the one to kill them. And you're seeing some teams roll coverage to Isaac Bruce's side of the field, so he never goes deep without a safety keeping half an eye on him. The thing I'd worry about with the Rams is if they let a good team like Tampa Bay hang around with them into the fourth quarter. Then young guys who haven't been tested at that level -- Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Bruce -- get their confidence shaken, and they could lose. Could the Giants do it? Doubtful with their wounded secondary, but I wouldn't have given you a nickel for the Giants' chances at Buffalo either.
In terms of salary cap, how is the impending retirement of Michael Irvin going to affect the Cowboys? And do you see them making a move toward a high-profile free agent (i.e. Tim Brown or Carl Pickens), or trading up in the draft to get a top-quality WR? Cheers.
-- Don Warren, Godmanchester, England
Cheerio, mate! Look for the Cowboys to go hard after Tim Brown if he exercises his option to become a free agent after the season. That's the biggest target of the Cowboys -- finding someone to be a target for Troy Aikman.
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