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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

A nightmare '97 behind him, Carolina's Kerry Collins is working
to regain his Pro Bowl form

Kerry Collins's plan was simple: He would transform himself from
Joe Quarterback into a regular Joe. He would pack four pairs of
pants, a few shirts and sweaters, and only whatever else was
essential into an oversized backpack. He would fly to
Copenhagen, take a train to Stockholm, then go on to Berlin,
Prague, Budapest and wherever. He would stay in youth hostels.
At many stops he wouldn't be able to speak the language, but
that was O.K. When anybody asked, he would say he was traveling
abroad after grad school.

That's exactly how his eight weeks of European travel, from late
January until mid-March, worked out. "You know how great it
was?" Collins, the embattled fourth-year Panthers quarterback
said last week at the team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C.
"A couple of times I got to be friendly with people. I told them
I was an NFL quarterback, and they were like, 'What's that?'"

What makes a high-profile athlete want to blend into the
scenery? For Collins, it was the desire to put behind him as bad
a season as any NFL quarterback has had of late. To recap: On
the final day of last year's training camp, Collins reportedly
directed racial slurs at two teammates. Shortly thereafter, it
was reported that other Carolina players said he partied too
much. In a preseason game his jaw was shattered on a vicious hit
by Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, and Collins missed the
first two regular-season games. He never regained the form he
exhibited in steering the Panthers to the '96 NFC Championship
Game. He threw 21 interceptions and only 11 touchdown passes and
wound up as the lowest-rated quarterback in the league.

Then, a month after the season, Collins learned that because of
his poor performance the team would not be paying him the $6
million bonus that would have activated the final three years of
his contract. As a result Collins became a restricted free
agent. He received little interest from other teams around the
league, and the Panthers were able to retain him with a
one-year, $1.15 million deal.

Collins won't discuss the racial allegations, but he and coach
Dom Capers think the broken jaw was the biggest factor in his
disappointing season anyway. "When I got hit," Collins says, "it
felt like my face exploded." Four titanium plates were inserted
into his jaw, which was broken in two places. By the time he
returned to action five weeks later, he had lost 12 pounds--and
become gun-shy.

"I don't think Kerry ever got his confidence back to where he
could stand in there like he always had," Capers says.

Collins agrees. "I was a prototype pocket guy who could take any
hit, and now I'd watch film of myself and think, Who the heck is
that guy?" he recalls. "That was a devastating injury. I didn't
feel human until all the metal came out two months ago."

At 6'5" and 243 pounds, Collins is hardly someone you expect to
see directing the West Coast offense, yet in the off-season
Capers imported Packers receivers coach Gil Haskell to be his
offensive coordinator. Not long after spending St. Patrick's Day
in Dublin, Collins was in Haskell's office, introducing himself.
He has been a frequent visitor since.

Collins says that the European vacation was just the break he
needed and he's ready to get back to being Joe Quarterback--and
enjoying the nightlife. "I won't live in a bubble," he says. "I'm
25. I'm single. I like to go out, and I will go out."

Safety First

The Jets are high on third-round draft pick Scott Frost, who,
after quarterbacking Nebraska to a co-national championship last
season, is trying to make it as a pro at safety. The transition
won't be easy. Just ask Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, who made the
same move 21 years ago.

"By far the toughest thing for me--and I think it will be for
Scott--was tackling," says Dungy, who, after an All-Big Ten
senior season at quarterback for Minnesota, signed with the
Steelers in 1977 as an undrafted free agent and played three NFL
seasons. "[As a quarterback] in college, you're hardly ever hit
in practice. You go to the NFL, and they don't stop practice to
teach you how to tackle. It's assumed you know how. I remember a
game against Dallas my rookie year, lining up to tackle [running
back] Robert Newhouse and hitting him with everything I had. He
just ran over me."

Frost has some experience at safety. Before transferring to
Nebraska, he played that position during one of his two seasons
at Stanford. Last month, after his third practice with the Jets,
he was amused to hear Dungy's remarks. "Maybe I'm a little bigger
than Dungy," said the 6'3", 220-pound Frost, who is in fact 32
pounds heavier than Dungy was when he reported to Pittsburgh. "I
think I'll be able to dish it out. I love contact. I'll stick my
nose in there."

With marginal performers Raymond Austin and Victor Green the
projected starters, the Jets could use help at both safety
positions, and Frost will get a look at each spot.

Cowboys Passing Game

Dallas wideout Michael Irvin, who can crow like Ali did in his
prime, stripped off his jersey after practice one day last week
and stared at his toned reflection in a tinted window. He
flexed. "Now I ask you," he bellowed, "is this the body of some
city brother, or is this the body of a damned Zulu warrior? What
is it, Billy Davis?"

"Zulu warrior," Davis, his fellow receiver, dutifully testified.

Irvin says he got his body in perfect football shape because of
the plans that first-year coach Chan Gailey has for him. On the
practice field this day, Irvin had lined up split wide, in the
slot and as a wingback. "People keep saying we need a second
receiver," Irvin says. "That's not going to be the big factor
everybody thinks. They'll be moving me around so much that teams
won't be able to double-team me all the time."

Since Irvin caught a career-high 111 passes in 1995, his
production has dipped dramatically. The following season he had
64 receptions while appearing in only 11 games, the result of a
five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse
policy. Playing in all 16 games last year, he had 75 catches.

Look for Gailey to settle on Davis or eight-year veteran Ernie
Mills as his other starter at wideout. And by running more short
and intermediate routes from a variety of formations, look for
Irvin to avoid the double teams that have hounded him of late.

Stat of the Week

The signing bonuses of the Colts' Peyton Manning ($11.6 million)
and the Chargers' Ryan Leaf ($11.25 million) exceeded what the
first pick in the 1989 draft, Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman,
earned in his first five NFL seasons combined ($9.8 million).

COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT K. BROWN REFRESHED A trek through Europe and a new offensive system have rejuvenated Collins. [Kerry Collins in game]

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS ROLE CHANGE Frost (47), who tried to beat defensive backs in college, is now one of them. [Scott Frost and teammate in practice]


Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost faces a daunting task in
trying to make it in the NFL as a rookie safety with the Jets.
Some top college quarterbacks, such as Jack Mildren and Rex Kern
in the '70s, were marginal pro defensive backs, but as the
sampling below shows, others were quite successful in making the
adjustment to a new position.


Bill Bradley, S Eagles, Cardinals NFL interception leader
Texas in 1971 and '72; Eagles
punter for four years

Nolan Cromwell, S Rams Four-time Pro Bowl selection
Kansas during 11-year career; eight
interceptions in '80

Bert Emanuel, WR Falcons, Bucs Moves on to Tampa Bay after
Rice averaging 65 receptions in
first four years

Paul Hornung, RB Packers 3,711 rushing yards, 130
Notre Dame receptions, 66 field goals
in nine seasons

Tom Matte, RB Colts Led NFL with 11 rushing
Ohio State TDs in '69; best known for
emergency QB duty in '65

Freddie Solomon, WR Dolphins, 49ers Crafty and speedy; caught
Tampa 371 passes, 48 for TDs,
in 11 seasons