Kerry Collins has no idea if he'll be the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 11, but Thursday's preseason finale against the Bengals will be valuable in case he is.
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Peyton Manning's availability is a question mark as he remains on a regimented practice schedule in the aftermath of offseason neck surgery.
Collins was signed Aug. 24 as an insurance policy and could very well be behind center when the Colts kick off the regular season in Houston. The veteran's late arrival has meant long hours in the classroom as he attempts to grasp the basics of the complex Indianapolis playbook Manning has mastered since 1998.
"I've been grinding at it since I've been here," Collins, 38, told The Indianapolis Star in Thursday's edition.
Thursday will represent Collins' first preseason action. Getting timing down with his receivers will be key, as will developing a connection with veteran center Jeff Saturday.
"I'm looking (at) giving him the experience of operating the offense in a game-type situation," coach Jim Caldwell said. "There are so many things you can simulate in practice, but it's a little bit different in a ballgame."
Collins' rich experience will undoubtedly help him here. The Colts are his fifth team in a 17-year career. He's made 177 starts in 195 games, throwing for more than 40,000 yards to go with 206 touchdowns.
"The nice thing about it is he's been in it," Caldwell said. "He understands the concepts. He understands the basic philosophy of what we're trying to do."
Collins feels he's been "progressing nicely."
"I expect to go out there and be able to do all the things they ask the quarterback to do," Collins said. "Practice reps are great. Meetings have been great. But now it's taking the game plan, knowing it and putting it to work."
The preseason finale isn't typically a place you'll find first-teamers on the field. The uncertainty at the QB situation puts Indianapolis in a unique position, however. Saturday feels it's essential that Collins gets game-action reps with the first unit before Week 1.
"If (Collins) is the guy in Houston, you don't want the first time (together) to be with 65,000 people screaming the first time you really hear that rhythm in a game," Saturday said.
"Everything gets excited in a game. You get more amped up."