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A Fresh Start For K. Collins

Denying he was racist and saying he was addressing an alcohol problem, quarterback Kerry Collins began offseason workouts with New York Giants on Monday in what might be a final attempt to salvage a once-promising career.

"I think people have a lot of questions about me and I am excited to have to opportunity to prove them wrong," Collins said in his first official interview since signing a four-year, $16.9 million contract as free agent.

The move created a stir not only because the Giants then released Danny Kanell, who led them to the playoffs in 1997, but because it also put starter Kent Graham's job in jeopardy.

Despite a salary that makes him the Giants' highest paid player, Collins said he understands his role as a backup. The former first-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft also said that he is tired of all the negative perceptions about him, that he has taken steps to get his life back in order and that he has the skills to be a very good NFL quarterback.

During most of the interview Collins dealt with his off-the-field problems:

A bad joke in the Carolina Panthers' locker room that got him labeled a racist.

His release on Oct. 13 after reportedly telling then-Panthers coach Dom Capers that he didn't have the heart for pro football.

His arrest on drunken driving charges in Charlotte, N.C., after he signed with New Orleans and returned with the Saints to play the Panthers two weeks later.

The former Penn State quarterback, who led Carolina to the NFC title game in 1996, spoke most about his alcohol use.

"I feel alcohol certainly played a role in my life and that it may have played too much of a role in my life," he said.

Collins would not discuss the details of the racial incident, but it was the subject he was most passionate about.

"As far as the racial thing goes, to my dying day I will deny the fact that I am a racist," said Collins, who is white. "I mean, I know what kind of person I am. I know what my beliefs are and I know how I feel about things."

Given the chance, he said, teammates would like the man they found. Giants players seemed willing to do that.

"Kerry is his own man," receiver Ike Hilliard said. "Everybody has done some things and lived their life the way they wanted to. He doesn't have to answer questions or hold himself accountable for anything he's done. He's one of my teammates. I'm behind him 100 percent."

"I've heard from a lot of his close friends (that) he is not that type of guy," fullback Charles Way said. "Everybody makes mistakes and you have to put it behind you."

Way and Hilliard are black.

When asked about being a quitter, Collins said he never stopped giving his all, although there were times when it was hard to do that. After taking a long, hard look at himself, Collins said he has taken steps to correct the problems and to be less of an nigma than he has been.

"I have rededicated myself to the game," he said. "I realize that I love football and football is very important to me. To be quite honest, some of the things that have gone on in my personal life took away from what I was trying to do on the football field. I'm still working on things, things in my personal life that I needed to address."

Giants coach Jim Fassel insisted on Monday that Graham is his starter and that Collins won't be rushed into anything.

"He has to play better than what he has demonstrated as a quarterback," said Fassel, who wants to work on Collins' fundamentals and footwork. "It's going to take time and practicing and practicing and practicing."

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