Journeyman Jed makes most of nomadic NFL stay

JED COLLINS as a Chief in '09

JED COLLINS, the multi-dimensional old Washington State Cougar, may be the most wanted unwanted guy in the NFL. He's chowed on cheese steaks in Philly while watching the Phillies win the World Series, had cold nights in Kansas City and hot ones in Arizona. He's walked along Lake Michigan and listened to jazz on Bourbon Street. He is, simply, an NFL nomad.

In fact, he may be the most journied journeyman in pro football today.

The result is unpacked wedding gifts and clothes he hasn't seen in two years.

Perhaps no tale illustrates his place in the NFL better than this one ...

One morning a few weeks ago, one day into his tenure with his seventh NFL team, he was nearly sent packing because a staffer thought he was someone else.

For Jed Collins, at the ripe old age of 24, it's all part of being the NFL's version of the proverbal man without a country.

And it's only fitting. At WSU, Collins was a man without a position. Robb Akey wanted him on defense and Mike Levenseller wanted him on offense. That battle aside, Bill Doba knew he needed to be on special teams.


COLLINS AS A TRUE FRESHMAN LINEBACKER IN 2004.

So Collins played everything. In a game against Idaho as a true freshman in 2004 he lined up variously at fullback, linebacker and on special teams. His stat line for the evening was something to behold. He recovered a fumbled kickoff; returned a kickoff 24 yards; made four tackles; caught a 27-yard pass; and served as the lead blocker in several two-back offensive sets.

A fan favorite, he eventually would be dubbed "Jedzilla" because he could seemingly do anything he wanted on a football field.

Ultimately, the 6-1, 255-pound Collins found a home at tight end, and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2007 after catching 52 Alex Brink passes for 512 yards.

Today he is a fullback with the New Orleans Saints, picked up for the club's practice squad last month.

It's his seventh team since turning pro in 2008, but he takes it all in stride.

"It's been tough, but it's also been an amazing experience," Collins told Cougfan.com in a recent interview. "And I don't know if it's one that I would have changed."

His multi-dimensional role at WSU helped prepare him for the uncertainty of life on the run.

"I learned to control what I could, to not change who I am," he said of his four years in crimson and gray. "I've been bounced around and struggled (but) the one thing I can control is my approach -- mental, physical, work ethic."

But, as he has learned over the years, he can't always control outside forces.

"Every coach has told me that I could play in this league, that they wish they could use me, that they just don't have the numbers," he said.

And then there was that first day with the Saints.

Collins came in, signed with the team, and prepared to get to work. While watching game film, a member of the organization came to get him to talk to coach Sean Payton. Collins immediately picked up on a tone of finality in the man's words.

"I was lost," he said. "Having been cut six, seven times, I was like, 'but I just got here.' I've learned to expect the worst, but I didn't think it was going to happen so quickly."

As they walked down the hall, Collins made an appeal that it was his first day, that he didn't even have a playbook to turn in to the coach.

"It turns out he was looking for another guy," he said with a rueful laugh. "He mistook me for him. I got to have the feelings of heartbreak, but that day, it wasn't for me."

And he's definitely grateful for the opportunity.

"It's refreshing for me because it's been a while since I've been around a winning organization, and seeing how the world champions do it on a daily basis is encouraging because you see how the hard work and dedication pay off."

To a certain degree, it's how he felt when he signed with WSU in February 2004 following a standout high school career in Mission Viejo, Calif.

The Cougars were coming off their third straight 10-win season. They had just knocked off No. 5 Texas in the Holiday Bowl and had gone to the Rose Bowl the year prior.

"What I knew of Washington State was that it was this premier football powerhouse, and my class was supposed to continue the glory days."

Instead, the 2004 class proved a bust. There were notable exceptions -- Collins, Michael Bumpus, Jerome Harrison and a couple others -- but on the whole it was an underperforming group. And it was followed by three successive recruiting classes that didn't pan out well either.

The bowl games dried up.

Not that the Cougs didn't come close.

In fact, on Oct. 28, 2006 it looked all the world like the Cougs were heading back to national prominence.

Collins, a junior, had 85 yards on four receptions from Brink that night in WSU's 37-15 win at UCLA. The victory made the Cougs bowl eligible, elevated them into the top 25, and prompted The Sporting News to forecast an undefeated run right through the bowl season.

Alas, the Cougs didn't win again that season, losing three straight to teams they were favored to beat. The bowl committees took a pass.

And perhaps the Cougars never making it to a bowl gives Collins an extra push to succeed at the next level, despite the let down of never sticking any one place for very long.

He was initially signed by Philadelphia in 2008, and in the same year joined Chicago and Cleveland. In 2009, he was with Kansas City and Arizona before returning to Cleveland. That stint carried into 2010, before he joined Tennessee, and now, New Orleans. He has primarily been used on practice squads, which he finds frustrating.

"I'm just waiting to get a break, an opportunity to show what I can do without prerequisites or previous stats or encounters judging me," he said. "I just want to go out on the field and play the game."

If that doesn't come to fruition, Collins, who married his college girlfriend, Kira, in June, is already thinking about the next step. He graduated from WSU with an accounting degree, and is thinking about going back to school for an MBA, or becoming a CPA.

And maybe unpack some of his personal belongings.

"We've lived out of suitcases the better part of two years," he said. "The joke is that we have boxes of our clothes and wedding presents stored and most of it we don't remember we own."

Not that he's complaining.

"Every call I get to continue the journey is a rebirth and another chance," he said. "That's something I get excited about."

COLLINS AND BUMPUS CELEBRATE WIN OVER OREGON IN 2006.

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