He counts as Canadian but Collie still adjusting to CFL

Austin Collie, Kerry Rhodes

SURREY, B.C. – Austin Collie recognizes the situation is a little strange. Despite having never suited up for a down of Canadian football, the former NFL receiver counts as a national player for the B.C. Lions.

Born in Hamilton while his father was playing in the CFL with the Tiger-Cats, Collie took up football after the family relocated to California.

Collie was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 out of Brigham Young University and caught passes from Peyton Manning for four seasons, but a series of injuries – including three concussions – meant that the phone eventually stopped ringing with NFL teams interested in his services.

That’s when he decided to give three-down football a try in the country of his birth despite having never stepped on the longer, wider field with an extra player until the Lions held a three-day offensive minicamp last week.

“It’s a little bit different,” Collie said after one the workouts. “But football’s football.”

If he can stay healthy, the 29-year-old could be a key cog for the Lions this season, especially when dressing Canadian players at skill positions means an extra international player can be plugged into another area of need.

Collie registered 179 catches for 1,908 yards and 16 touchdowns in 49 games over his five NFL seasons, but he really made a name for himself over his first three years before the injuries hit. He had just seven catches in six games for the New England Patriots in 2013 and sat out all of 2014.

The bigger field should play to Collie’s strengths as B.C. looks to install a high-tempo offensive scheme under new head coach Jeff Tedford, who joins the Lions after a decorated career in U.S. college football.

“I love it. We did a lot of similar things in Indy and New England,” Collie said of his early impressions of the offence. “As far as the route concepts it will be pretty easy to get. You’ve just got to get used to some of the intricate things they do up here in the CFL.”

Collie, who signed with the Lions in January, caught the eye of Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, who noted the receiver’s professionalism.

“You get the impression he’s going to be his own worst critic, which most guys at this level are,” said Lulay. “You can tell there’s going to be an attention to detail with him in the way he moves, the way he does stuff, seeing how he catches the ball, getting out of his breaks. Those are what you’re looking for in a brand-new wideout – and a willingness to learn – and I think he hits all those checks early on here.

“It’ll be fun when we get defensive backs and start seeing how guys really go about doing their job, which is getting open and catching the football. But the first impression is really good.”

For his part, Tedford has careful to temper his comments on Collie’s first few workouts, but he too saw a player that could have an impact for the Lions.

“He’s getting the rust off a little bit having not played in a couple years,” said the coach. “But he looks really good … you can tell he’s got a lot of skill.”