This series analyzes Colts players who have some of the most interesting storylines heading into the 2012 season. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments on who I should put "Under the Microscope" in future articles this summer. The series has already covered Jerry Hughes, Joe Reitz and Tom Zbikowski, and continues now with Austin Collie.
It's sad to admit, but I still can't start talking about Austin Collie without mentioning his concussions.
A completely healthy 2011 season in which he played in all 16 games didn't change that. Between the team's disasters at quarterback and the inability for any of them to utilize the slot receiver well, Collie's production suffered greatly compared to his 2010 season, especially if you look at just the first six games of the year.
With no concussion symptoms and Peyton Manning at QB, Collie racked up 44 receptions, 503 yards and six touchdowns through Week 6 of 2010. Those insane numbers led the league in all three categories at that point in the season.
After that, the story is unfortunately memorable for all Colts fans. Collie took a brutal hit to the head in Week 9 against the Eagles and played in just one game for the next month. He returned fully healthy on Dec. 19 against the Jaguars and exploded for two touchdowns in the first half, only to take another hit to the head in the second half, suffering a his second concussion that year. The injury led to him landing on the IR a few days later.
Things got so bad for him that retirement speculation followed him throughout the next offseason
Even though Collie stayed completely healthy in 2011, appearing in all 16 games, his lack of production kept around lingering questions about his health.
Fortunately, his outlook for 2012 already appears better.
The departure of Pierre Garcon has made Collie the early favorite to become the team's No. 2 wide receiver, and if Andrew Luck is everything we expect him to be, Collie will actually have a good quarterback throwing to him.
However, questions still remain about what kind of production to expect out of Collie, where he'll line up in the offense and if Luck can have the same kind of chemistry with him that Manning had with him.
Read on after the jump to see what kind of year I envision for Collie.
Whether or not Collie can play as an outside receiver in this offense is what excites me the most for his upcoming season. I'm not completely sold on Donnie Avery and don't think the Colts can simply plug him into the starting lineup as an outside receiver and expect immediate production. His injury history with his knee and lack of production last season with Tennessee concern me too much.
The additions of T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill also make me think the Colts could utilize Collie as more than just a slot receiver this season, giving the rookies more of a chance to get on the field.
The Colts will likely want to have Collie on the field more often than Avery, and if they plan to run a two-tight end offense with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen to help ease Andrew Luck's transition to the NFL, Collie will have to play more than he ever has on the outside.
To analyze how well Collie can function out of his comfort zone in the slot, there's really only one game to judge.
I'll have to take Colts fans out of their comfort zones as well right now, because this game is one of the darkest moments in team history.
I'm just going to skip all of the bad memories regarding this game and get to why I'm bringing it up.
Garcon, a typical ironman in his time with the Colts, was inactive for this game due a hand injury. In a big surprise, Anthony Gonzalez was also out. Collie was only player the Colts could rely on at that point to play opposite Reggie Wayne. It only made matters worse that Darrelle Revis was covering Wayne, meaning Collie's play would most likely make or break how the offense functioned against a stout Jets defense.
With all of these factors riding against him, Collie delivered in a big, big way.
In only a little over a half of play with Manning, Collie hauled in six receptions for 94 yards. Three of his catches went for 20+ yards. And this was all from him playing as an outside receiver.
That game along with his playoff performances that year turned out to be a glimpse of how well Collie would play once he started the 2010 season, as I mentioned before.
Pro Football Focus managing editor Mike Clay tweeted two stats this week that only backup just how good Collie was at the time.
In 2010, his last season with Peyton Manning, Austin Collie caught 41-of-43 (95%) balls thrown fewer than 9 yds down field. #Colts— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) June 26, 2012
In his career, Colts Austin Collie has caught 100% of balls thrown to him behind the line of scrimmage. 29-of-29. Impressive.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) June 26, 2012
Now, I'll admit Collie's abilities on the outside can't be judged based off one game, and it's not likely that he'll put up monster numbers to start the 2012 season. But the Jets game does at least show that he can operate on the outside if asked to, and his play two years ago shows the ceiling Collie can reach when healthy and playing with a real quarterback.
Luck is certainly a real quarterback. But even though Luck seemed to favor throwing to Collie the most in minicamp practices this summer, it wouldn't be fair to expect an instant connection between the two without a few miscommunications and mistakes along the way. The same goes for Luck's relationship with every receiver.
This is going to be a year for the offense to develop and grow with each other as players like Luck, Hilton, Fleener, Allen and Samson Satele are implemented.
Collie made a bold statement regarding the adjustment from Manning to Luck last week when he was at the BYU Media Day.
Indianapolis Colt Austin Collie at BYU media day. On playing without Manning: "It stinks."— Jay Drew (@drewjay) June 27, 2012
Enough said. Even though the Colts won't have Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing the ball anymore, there will still will be a learning curve for everyone in the offense now that Manning isn't even in Indianapolis patrolling the sidelines. That includes Collie.
I consider Collie to be a great player and think that he is past any concussion systems, but I don't expect a Pro Bowl season from him even now that Luck is at quarterback and Garcon is with the Washington Redskins.
My hope is that Collie provides a security blanket for Luck, leading the Colts to re-sign him next offseason so he can really develop into a top-level wide receiver with the team's young quarterback.
For the 2012 season, I project Austin Collie to record 65 receptions, 750 yards and five touchdowns. If he stays healthy throughout the entire year, I really believe he could reach these numbers.
Numbers aside, Collie will be one of the most important players in the Colts offense this season. I have no doubt that how well he plays will play a significant role in how well this team moves the ball.