Not long ago, the idea of seeing former BYU wide receiver Austin Collie in this year's NFL playoffs didn't seem likely.
It was just another setback in a professional career that has shown promise at times, but not much recently. He had been cut again by the New England Patriots on Dec. 27, 2013, just three weeks after being re-signed by the team for the second time this season.
But mounting injuries in the Patriots' receiving crew have the wide-out back in the postseason for the first time since the 2009-10 season when New England faces Collie's old team, the Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday in the NFL divisional playoffs.
When fellow receiver Josh Boyce was placed on injured reserve, it opened up a spot for Collie to return to the 53-man roster on Jan. 2. He could see a bump in playing time after rookie wide-out Aaron Dobson was ruled out for this weekend's playoff game with a foot injury.
He's the lone former BYU player on any playoff team this season and will be attempting to win his first Super Bowl ring, like former Cougar teammate Dennis Pitta did last season with the Baltimore Ravens.
For Collie, who endeared himself to Cougar fans for his workmanlike approach to the game, it's a welcome sign for someone who had much professional promise after being selected by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
This season, which began with Collie being cut by the San Francisco 49ers following preseason play after being released by the Colts in February 2013, has been a test for the former Cougar. Collie doesn't even have as many offensive snaps this season — 118 in seven games, according to ESPN — as he does career NFL receptions, 179.
"You sometimes take it for granted when you don't have the opportunity to step away," Collie told MassLive.com earlier this week. "You definitely realize how much fun it is and how much you love it when you're watching from home."
In those seven games in 2013, Collie has six receptions for 63 yards, and he has earned one start for the Patriots this season. He goes into this weekend's contest as New England's No. 4 receiver, behind fellow veterans Julius Edelman and Danny Amendola, as well as rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.
Showing toughness is a Collie trait. Before injuries, including multiple concussions, hampered his NFL career, he had been a reliable target for then-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Before that — dating back to his 3-catch, 54-yard, one-touchdown effort in his Cougar debut in a win over Notre Dame in 2004 — Collie proved to be a consistent threat in a BYU uniform.
Despite a rough 2013, Collie has put himself in a position where he could have the opportunity to make plays in the postseason.
He has 17 career receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns during NFL postseason play; all those stats came during Indianapolis' run to Super Bowl XLIV, which the Colts lost 31-17 to New Orleans. Those career playoff stats are the best among the Patriots' current crop of wide receivers; besides Collie, only Edelman (nine receptions, 75 yards, two touchdowns) has made any receptions in postseason play.
"You can only do your best away from it all, by yourself and without reps and what not. But I knew this year was going to be tough," Collie told The Sun Chronicle. "I knew this year was going to have its bumps in the road just because there was no offseason for me, recovering from my knee and what not.
"My main thing is that every time I show up here, I just want to continue to get better. I kind of have the mentality that I expect there to be bumps in the road, so it really didn’t take me by surprise and it really didn’t take me off my routine."
Whether it's making a catch over a disciplined defender or staying in shape and determined to improve, Collie has made a habit of getting himself in position to succeed.
Come Saturday, he'll perhaps have the chance to prove himself again.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd
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