The ball fell at Kerry Collins's feet as he stepped away from center this afternoon. As linemen dived for the recovery, Collins stepped away and looked at his hands in disgust. He walked over to Coach Jim Fassel, who lifted his own hands to talk about what the quarterback might have done wrong.
Collins dropped a couple of other snaps, although his fumbles and two others by Jason Garrett were probably the result of their unfamiliarity with a third-string center who was filling in for the injured Dusty Zeigler and Jason Whittle. But in a Giants training camp in which Fassel is emphasizing a reduction in preventable errors, Collins is trying to cut down on his fumbles after setting an N.F.L. record last season with 23.
"It's an area of emphasis," Collins said today before the afternoon workout on the first day of training camp. "It's something we've worked on all off-season, and I definitely think it'll get better."
The Giants' first-round draft pick, tight end Jeremy Shockey, did not participate in today's workouts, and there is a growing sense within the organization that he may not be here until early next week. He is among a block of unsigned first-round picks and may not agree to terms until the negotiation dominoes begin to fall and his value is established.
The holdout will not change his role in the offense, but Fassel wants Shockey to resolve the matter. "I'm concerned now," Fassel said. "I don't like anyone to miss a day of practice. He's a rookie. He needs to be here, to learn."
The number of fumbles last season for Collins, who on Wednesday signed a restructured contract that extends through 2004, is somewhat misleading. There were times when he dropped the ball after being hammered, and other times when he was credited with a fumble during an exchange with a ball carrier and it was not clear he was at fault. Collins was actually listed with 22 fumbles by the Giants at the end of the season, but after they published their postseason guide, they were informed by the Elias Sports Bureau that Collins had been charged with another fumble in the 15th game of the season, against Philadelphia.
"I put the ball on the ground too much," Collins said. When he did, the Giants' offense shut down. Six of the 23 fumbles were lost to the other team. On 15 of the 17 other drives in which the Giants recovered the ball, they failed to make a first down. Collins had three fumbles in the first five games, before collecting 11 over the next five games and 20 over the final 11 games.
Zeigler thinks the fumbled snaps may have been the result of a lack of concentration and increased frustration as the Giants' season fell apart. Some mistakes were his own, Zeigler said, some were Collins's responsibility. "You start making mistakes, and it just snowballs," Zeigler said.
Collins agreed. "I would think sloppiness came into it, for lack of a better term," he said. "At times, it just wasn't clean. You start thinking about a lot of different things, and then — boom — one's on the ground. Taking care of the little things, it's an old cliché, but you've got to concentrate on little things like that that you take for granted."
Collins really cannot do much about the fumbles that come when a linebacker blindsides him, but he is trying to make adjustments on the snap. "We've got to get those down," Fassel said today. He added that the fumbles on the quarterback-center exchange are inexcusable.
Collins believes that at times last season, he sometimes straightened up as he prepared to take the snap from center — almost instinctively, like rushing a golf swing — to put himself in a better position to break away from the line to avoid the tangle of feet and to get the ball in the hands of the ball carrier.
But Collins is 6 foot 5 and unless he is crouched and set with his hands parallel to the ground, his hands are drawn upward at an angle and will bump against the backside of the center. "If you get constricted, the ball is a little harder to get ahold of," Collins said.
Collins also tends to lift his hands as he receives the ball, a habit he has had since he began playing football — like a hitch in a baseball swing. It can make the transfer a little rougher, and Collins continues to try to change this. But he is not fretting about the record, and he is sure he can clean up the mistakes. "It never became mental or anything like that," he said.
July 25, 2002