FOXBOROUGH — Austin Collie has seven receptions as a member of the Patriots, and nearly as many roster transactions: five.
He has played in eight games since he was initially signed Oct. 3, a fifth-year receiver trying to keep his NFL career going despite multiple concussions and a knee injury, which led to the Colts cutting ties with the player they drafted in the fourth round in 2009.
Collie spent training camp this season with San Francisco, but was unemployed for six weeks before he was brought aboard by New England. A month after he arrived he was cut because of an injury, but he was re-signed once he was healthy.
Collie was released again Dec. 29, and it looked like his time with the Patriots was done. Then Josh Boyce went on injured reserve, and New England needed another receiver.
Collie got the call.
The 28-year-old has dealt with the back-and-forth of the season pretty well, coach Bill Belichick said Friday.
“Austin’s a smart guy. He’s an experienced player,” Belichick said. “I think he’s done a good job for us here. He’s come through in some critical times for us with some key plays. That’s what a team is — you have to depend on everybody and he’s been dependable in situations where we’ve needed him.”
Most of Collie’s catches have made an impact: last week against the Colts, he had a 15-yard reception on third and 10 in the fourth quarter that led to the Patriots’ final touchdown; against Cleveland he had a late third-down conversion that was part of a field goal drive that aided in New England’s comeback. And in his first game as a Patriot, Collie had two catches for 24 yards, including a fourth-down grab, on the winning touchdown drive.
Collie has acknowledged that it has been a roller coaster season for him, “but it’s what’s expected when you’re not on a team in an offseason and coming off a major injury [ruptured patellar tendon],” he said. “Right now I’m trying to survive and trying to help this team out.”
Coming from Indianapolis, where the first quarterback he played with was Peyton Manning, Collie had a bit of an advantage when he signed with the Patriots.
“I think being in a system where it’s about route running and route technique and route discipline and concepts and signals and adjustments and things like that, that’s kind of the way our offense is, that’s the way that offense always has been,” Tom Brady said. “Not that the offenses are the same because there are some different things but when you run a 14-yard in-cut, whether you’re wearing a Patriots jersey or a Broncos jersey, those are the same things.
“Ultimately it’s going to be about running routes and creating separation, enough separation where I feel confident to be able to throw you the football.
“Austin has a good idea of that. Julian [Edelman] has a good idea of that being here with me. Danny [Amendola] came in and he’s getting an understanding of that.
“You have to be a technician, you have to understand, you have to be a student of the game, you have to work, you have to understand what the coaches are asking, understand what the team is looking for and just keep working harder and harder and harder and then when you get your opportunity, you have to make it pay off.”
Collie was not on the roster when the Patriots hosted the Broncos Nov. 24, so Sunday’s AFC Championship game will be the first time he’ll be opposite Manning.
Collie didn’t feel comfortable comparing Brady with Manning, instead saying he was just happy to be working with Brady.
Brady spoke highly of Collie, who is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season, when the Colts lost to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
“It’s been great. He came onto the roster late in the season and then worked away to find a role on the team and then got injured, which was unfortunate because he was really starting to come on,” Brady said. “Then he’s fought back to the point where now he’s a really trusted receiver on our team again. We had a lot of guys come in and out of that position, a lot of guys come in and out of that receiver spot.
“Austin, when he’s been in there, has been very dependable and consistent and really knows how to play the position . . . Hopefully he can go out and make some plays this weekend.”