It was an hour into the first practice of training camp, but the timing between Kerry Collins and Amani Toomer on Friday suggested mid-autumn.
On one play, Collins lofted a perfectly placed spiral near the left sideline. It was just over the fingertips of cornerback Will Peterson, and Toomer caught it by cradling it in his left arm. On another, Collins rolled right and threw a short-range dart into Toomer's chest. Later, another hard throw from Collins squirted through the hands of linebacker Brandon Short and into Toomer's.
So it has gone for Collins, who finished 2002 on a record-breaking roll, threw just as sharply in spring workouts and arrived here still in peak form. "He's the best I've seen him," Toomer said. "I mean, it's pretty scary to think what could happen [after] this start."
If there is a single biggest reason the Giants believe they can win the Super Bowl, it is not Jeremy Shockey or Tiki Barber or Michael Strahan or Jim Fassel. It is the fact that rarely in their 79-year history have they had such a given at the most important position.
"Phil Simms was great, and we had some not so great," said Michael Strahan, a teammate of Simms as a rookie in 1993, then of Dave Brown, Tommy Maddox, Danny Kanell and Kent Graham. "Kerry is a great quarterback."
Said Toomer: "If he gets protection and a chance to set his feet, I think he [ranks] up there at one, two, three [in the NFL] throwing the ball. I don't think there are a lot of people in this league who would doubt that."
Collins set career highs in yards (4,073), completions (335), completion percentage (61.5) and passer rating (85.4) last season. He also feels more confident than ever with the other parts of the job. He vowed entering camp to be more outspoken, then began Thursday by addressing an offensive meeting to remind teammates the 2003 offense had accomplished nothing yet.
"I've gotten more comfortable to open my mouth if something is on my mind," Collins said. Would he have given a speech such as Thursday's three years ago? "Probably not," he said.
Collins, who turned 30 in December, also has continued to enjoy a more settled personal life, something he lacked for much of his youth and young adulthood. He bought a house in 2001. He was married in 2002. Recently, he and his wife, Brooke, learned they are expecting their first child Feb. 13, two weeks after the Super Bowl.
Collins has three of the Giants' five highest single-season passing yardage totals, and his name appears in bold all over the lists of team passing records. But just last summer, he was coming off a rocky season and signed a modest contract extension rather than become a lame-duck quarterback. That contract runs through 2004. If he has another big year, he will be in line for a massive new deal after this season. Not that he appears to worry much about that, or about much else.
Teammates like the fact that he rarely loses control of his emotions, in good times or bad. "He keeps an even keel," Barber said. "Kerry is the one who keeps us in line. We wouldn't trade him for anyone."
Said Collins: "I just don't worry about the things I used to worry about. That comes with age and the journey. All this isn't overwhelming to me. It used to be, but it's not anymore."