Giants' Collins Learns From Past

No matter how many touchdown passes he throws, no matter if he's a model citizen, Kerry Collins knows his play on the field as the New York Giants starting quarterback is never going to let him escape his past.

It's just a fact of life.

People remember your mistakes, and Collins made a ton of them in Carolina, on and off the field while playing for the Panthers. It doesn't make a difference he led them to the NFC title game in 1996.

The fifth pick overall in the 1995 NFL Draft drove under the influence of alcohol. He said things in the locker room under the influence. He quit on his team under the influence. He did a lot stupid things under the influence before turning his life around after joining the Giants last year.

Collins is prodded about those mistakes daily. Almost every interview reaches into his past.

Yet, every question is answered as if being asked for the first time. There is no impatience, just a straightforward response.

``Don't think I like it,'' Collins said Wednesday when asked about the situation. ``Don't get me wrong on that one. I just accept it.''

So Collins talks about his problems. The 27-year-old talks about addressing the league's draft picks at a symposium early in the summer, spilling his guts, hoping for closure and then feeling miserable the following day.

``Things I've gone through are a lot tougher than things that happen on the field,'' Collins said. ``Things affect me a lot less now. Interceptions and touchdowns don't bother me. I try to play the same way all the time, regardless of the situation.''

General manager Ernie Accorsi took a lot of criticism signing Collins in February 1999. But the former Penn State product was impressive last season after replacing Kent Graham at quarterback for the last six games of the season.

Collins completed 191 of 332 passes for 2,316 yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also became the first Giant to throw for 300 yards in a game since Phil Simms in 1993, passing for 341 yards against the Jets on Dec. 5.

``There is definitely a difference in the way he is approaching the season,'' tight end Pete Mitchell said. ``He sees this as his team and he's definitely our leader on offense. I think as a quarterback, that's what you need. Last year, he wasn't sure what to expect being his first year.''

Not only is Collins feeling more comfortable here, he likes the changes made by new offensive coordinator Sean Payton, moves that will try to get the Giants to the playoffs for the first time in three years. New York was 7-9 last season.

``The first thing that will jump out are the multiple formations and the multiple sets that we'll have compared to last year,'' Collins said. ``Last year we were pretty basic. We didn't do a whole lot of shifting and motion.''

Having Ron Dayne in the backfield and a new offensive line also should help re-establish a running game that was AWOL last season.

What Collins has to do is cut down on his mistakes. In the past three seasons with Carolina, New Orleans and the Giants, he has thrown 31 touchdowns and 47 interceptions.

``Decision-making is the thing that has jumped up at me and bitten me in the past,'' Collins said. ``I think being in the offense another year and being exposed to it will help.''

Having a clear-cut quarterback situation also helps. Collins is the starter and Jason Garrett is now the backup.

Graham is history, having been released after the season.

``Compared to last year, it's like night and day,'' Collins said. ``Kent was trying to hold on to what he had, but I knew I would eventually get an opportunity.''

Collins did and took advantage of it.

What hasn't changed are the questions. Collins knows they never will.