Improving Collins still at helm

Can Kerry continue to carry offense? He sure did so down the stretch last season. Collins was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for December

Just when you think Kerry Collins has outdone himself, he goes and gets even better. Sooner or later, people around the league are going to have to start giving Collins his due. He set multiple Giants passing records last season and continues to post numbers not seen in these parts since … well, actually never. To say the Giants haven't been this set at quarterback since the Phil Simms days would be false – they've never been this set at quarterback.

Can Kerry continue to carry offense?

He sure did so down the stretch last season. Collins was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for December. The highlight of his almost single-handedly leading the Giants to a playoff berth with a 4-0 mark in the season's final month came when he posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in Indianapolis on Dec. 22. For the season, he had the best campaign a Giants QB has ever had, with his 335 completions and 4,073 passing yards setting club marks. He also went a career-long 128 passes without being intercepted during '02.

Sure Collins had plenty of weapons around him. But the likes of Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey wouldn't have even come close to the production levels that they've enjoyed without Collins' precision passing. This year, the Giants are going to tweak the offense to utilize more of the two-tight end packages that were so successful last season. Much has been made about Collins' love for the tight end, dating back to his Kyle Brady days at Penn State.

Collins is as confident as ever. Now with the addition of third-round TE Visanthe Shiancoe, he has even more weapons as his disposal. Look out NFC.

How will Collins cope without his guys?

There's no doubt about the fact that the only person more upset than Kerry Collins when Sean Payton had his play-calling duties stripped was Payton himself. Collins and Payton grew very close during their time together in New York, and Collins was the quickest and most supportive to stand up for Payton after his demotion. However, Payton stayed around and devoted even more time to Collins and the QBs, something Collins clearly appreciated and benefited from. Now, Payton is currently employed by Bill Parcells and the rival Cowboys. While taking nothing away from new QBs Coach Turk Schoenert, Collins is certainly going to miss his buddy Payton. They both agreed upon and enjoyed a gambling, take no prisoners offensive approach.

Collins is too mature and too much of a professional to allow Payton's departure to affect him long-term, but what happens when Collins hits his first bump in the road and his safe haven is so far away?

On a similar note, Collins (and the entire offense) is going to miss departed TE Dan Campbell. He was an offensive leader and one of the most popular players around.

Who's next?

With Collins entrenched as the starter and locked up for a few more seasons, there are no serious questions in Giantsland. However, Collins has been unbelievably durable during his stay in New York. What if that luck runs out? The Giants elevated Jesse Palmer to backup status last season and seem to like his potential and ability. Palmer entered late in a rout of Dallas last season and, in doing so, broke Collins' streak of 1,852 consecutive passes thrown, which was an NFL record.

New York revamped a large part of its offensive line last season and Collins still held up just fine physically. Will lightning strike twice this season with number five now being protected by new players at right guard and right tackle? What if Collins were lost for an extended period of time? Could Palmer do the job? Would the Giants be comfortable sliding in Jason Garrett, who's almost become more of a coach than a player at this point? Or do the Giants scan the waiver wire for a veteran who may hit the street? It says here that Palmer is more than ready and able to step in if need be, but these are questions that Jim Fassel must certainly consider. Collins can't continue to throw every pass for the foreseeable future…or can he?

BREAKOUT BOX

Strength of Unit: Kerry Collins is one of the game's best passers at this point. Weakness of Unit: No tried and true veteran backup, although Jesse Palmer has talent and Jason Garrett has fared well in the past. Key additions: No one, unless you consider Michigan State's Ryan Van Dyke a threat to Collins' throne. However, the Giants do view Van Dyke as more than just an extra arm for camp. Key losses: No QBs, just two of the linemen – Jason Whittle, Mike Rosenthal – assigned to protect them.

Darkhorse: Ryan Van Dyke. He'll be worth watching in the exhibition games.

On the hotseat: QBs Coach Turk Schoenert has to endear himself to Kerry Collins as well as predecessor Sean Payton did.

KEY STATS

Mr. Dependable: Kerry Collins has started 55 consecutive games for the Giants. He also fashioned a streak of 1,852 consecutive passes thrown and threw 128 straight passes in December without an INT.

On the Rise: Continuing to set New York records at an almost amazing clip, Collins fashioned his best ever QB rating last season (85.4), about a dozen points higher than his career rating. His 61.5 completion percentage also blew away his previous best mark of 58.8, set in 2000.

Future Star: By stepping in for four passes (and completing three) last season, Jesse Palmer got his name on New York's books. The Giants would be content if he maintains his career 95.8 QB rating.


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