Over the next week we will be wrapping up our position by position looks at the current talent on the Indianapolis Colts' roster and previewing the battles that may take place in training camp. Today we look at the cornerbacks.
No position on the Colts roster has been more criticized this offseason than the cornerbacks (or maybe the owner, but that doesn't count), and for good reason.
The only corner on the Colts that is somewhat comforting is a guy who has been placed on injured reserve each of the past two years.
Jerraud Powers still has a lot of potential, but injuries have really slowed his development. Drafted by the Colts in 2009, he was a part of the Colts AFC Championship. He made 66 tackles, intercepted one pass and batted down 10 more that year. In his three year career, he has made 170 tackles, intercepted 5 passes, forced one fumble and batted down 25 passes. In 2010 he started 10 games and in 2011 he started 12. He was placed on injured reserve in both years. In fact, going back to his three years at Auburn, he was injured in both 2006 and 2008, but played through both of them.
Powers is clearly the best corner the Colts have on their roster, but I am just not convinced he will last this season. He has not shown that he can stay healthy. If he gets injured again, a position that is already terrible would become disastrous.
The other starting spot is a toss up. Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Justin King and Terrence Johnson all could get looks, and others may impress as well.
Rucker was drafted by the Colts in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and last season appeared in 15 games, starting 4. He made 36 tackles and had 2 pass deflections. Rucker is a guy who I think could be one of the best corners on the Colts, but again that is not saying much.
The Colts drafted Kevin Thomas in 2010, but a knee injury ended his rookie season before he played a game. In 2011 he played in 9 games and started 5 while recording 33 tackles and 3 pass deflections. I think Thomas, like Rucker, could develop into a decent player.
Justin King was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft, but missed his entire rookie season due to injury. In his three seasons in which he saw the field, he made 113 tackles, 1 sack, 9 pass deflections, 1 interception, and forced one fumble. He was signed by the Colts on June 8, 2012. He is not necessarily a good corner, but compared to the other guys on the Colts roster, he looks pretty good.
Terrence Johnson originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 with the New England but was released before the season started. He was signed to the Colts practice squad later that year. In 2011, on the active roster, Johnson appeared in 10 games (starting 2) and made 37 tackles before being placed on injured reserve.
The Colts acquired Cassius Vaughn in a trade with the Denver Broncos on May 23, 2012. The Colts sent fullback Chris Gronkowski to Peyton Manning's new team and received Vaughn in exchange. Vaughn played two seasons in Denver (where he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010), making 28 tackles, 4 pass deflections, and one interception (which he returned 55 yards for a touchdown last season). He also could contribute on special teams, both as a returner and coverage.
Brandon King was signed by the Colts in 2010 as an UDFA out of Purdue but was released before the season started. He spent time in 2011 on the Dolphins' practice squad before returning to Indianapolis.
Korey Lindsey was a seventh round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 but, like many of these players, was released before the season started. He spent time on the Cardinals' practice squad before signing with Indy.
The Colts also signed three undrafted free agents this offseason: Cameron Chism was signed out of Maryland, Antonio Fenelus was signed out of Wisconsin, and Buddy Jackson was signed out of Pittsburgh.
Let's now try to sort out who will be the starting corner opposite Powers; who will see playing time; and who will make the roster.
First off, Jerraud Powers will obviously make the roster. Kevin Thomas, Chris Rucker, Justin King, and even Terrence Johnson could all make pushes for the second starting spot. Thomas has been practicing with the starters in the offseason, and is likely going into training camp as the second corner. But after that, who knows? He has as good of a chance as any of the others, but this position will be a big battle. I think many people have a chance to win the starting spot, or at least significant playing time. The real people to watch, in my opinion, will be Thomas and Rucker.
And that is just to decide the final starting spot. Teams will take advantage of the Colts' extreme weakness at corner by running three or four wide receiver packages, forcing the Colts to use nickel and dime packages. The Colts are going to need more than just the two starters to contribute, especially until they can prove to teams they can cover.
For now, let's assume Thomas is the number two corner. I think Rucker would probably be the nickel corner, with either Justin King or Terrence Johnson being used in dime packages.
So far, here is what we have established: Jerraud Powers starting at right corner, Kevin Thomas starting at left corner, Chris Rucker in nickel packages and either Justin King or Terrence Johnson in dime packages.
That leaves Brandon King, Korey Lindsey, Cassius Vaughn, and the rookies Cameron Chism, Antonio Fenelus, and Buddy Jackson as the guys fighting for a roster spot. Five cornerbacks would certainly be acceptable, so if none of these guys impress the Colts do not have to keep any of them. But if the Colts are going to keep six guys at the position, Vaughn, Fenelus, and Jackson are the ones who likely will be fighting for the spot. I would say Jackson, but again I do not know.
The cornerback position is the most undecided on the roster. The only thing established thus far is that the injury-prone Jerraud Powers will be one of the starting cornerbacks. Everything else is up in the air and will be one of the most important and interesting things to keep an eye on when training camp arrives.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jerraud Powers, Kevin Thomas
BATTLING FOR STARTING SPOT: Chris Rucker, Justin King, Terrence Johnson
BATTLING FOR A ROSTER SPOT: Brandon King, Korey Lindsey, Cassius Vaughn, Cameron Chism, Antonio Fenelus, and Buddy Jackson