Austin Collie certainly wasn’t in the 49ers’ plans for 2013.
This past offseason, the Niners seemed to have a wealth of wideouts, with the addition of Anquan Boldin to a group that includes Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette and Quinton Patton.
But after Crabtree was lost for possibly the entire season with an Achilles’ tendon tear and then injuries depleted the group further early in training camp at Santa Clara, the Niners began looking for more options. Suddenly, there was Collie, a veteran free agent.
Now the four-year NFL veteran – who has three seasons of 50 or more catches – seems to have a good chance to make San Francisco’s opening-day roster. After signing with the 49ers last week, Collie has played well in practices and drills and will get his first chance to show what he can do in live game action Thursday night when the Broncos play the 49ers at Candlestick Park in the exhibition opener.
As the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows reported this week, Collie has looked good.
On Tuesday, Collie caught a deep pass against the 49ers’ “D” from quarterback B.J. Daniels, getting past safety Michael Thomas. It was notable, Barrows wrote, because Collie is coming back from a torn patella tendon last season – when he played just one game for Indianapolis – and there were questions whether Collie was at 100 percent.
“He looked plenty fast on that play, and he caught several other passes – including some when he was in the slot position – on Tuesday,” wrote Barrows.
If Collie continues to perform well – and form a connection with starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick – he could earn a job, especially with Crabtree and Manningham out for the season opener and other receivers slowed by lesser injuries.
Collie was signed, along with Lavelle Hawkins, after recent tryouts. Mike Sando of ESPN.com, who covers the NFC West for the website, pointed out that until Collie’s career was disrupted by his knee injury and four concussions, he was a highly productive receiver for the Colts. In fact, Sando compared Collie with Crabtree over the 2009-11 seasons – before Crabtree’s breakout season in 2012 – and showed that Collie was just as productive. Crabtree had more catches (175-172) and yards (2,240-1,839), but Collie had more TDs (16-12).
If Collie is again healthy, he could be a nugget for the 49ers.
Collie, 27, reports he’s passed a variety of neurological tests from NFL teams, and says his knee again is sound. He told Barrows that no doctor has told him that he’s putting himself at risk to play again.
“I have a pretty good self-awareness of where I’m at with my body,” Collie told the Bee. “I’m a smart kid. I’m not going to put myself at risk. And every doctor I talked to said, ‘You can play. You’re ready to go.’ ”
Though Collie wasn’t in the 49ers plans for 2013, his signing – out of necessity – could prove to be a fortunate addition.