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Indianapolis Colts 2016 position preview: Defensive backs

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There are some positions on the Colts roster, such as inside linebacker, that will have both a new starter and a position battle in training camp. When it comes to the starting secondary, however, there’s no battle despite the fact that two of the four players will be new starters.

At safety, it’s pretty clear that Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers will be the starting duo, while at cornerback it will be Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson. Geathers was drafted in the fourth round by the Colts in last year’s draft, and he spent his first season mainly developing behind veterans Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery. Geathers made two starts last year in place of an injured Adams, and with Lowery’s departure in free agency Geathers will take over the full-time starting role. Robinson was the Colts’ main free agent addition this year, joining the team from the San Diego Chargers, where he excelled last year. The former Saints first round pick spent five seasons in New Orleans and then the 2015 season in San Diego, playing well in roles as an outside corner and as a slot corner.

The attention will understandably be on Clayton Geathers and Patrick Robinson this preseason, but the returning starters are good players as well - with both Mike Adams and Vontae Davis having made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. Adams has proven to be a reliable turnover machine, while Davis has established himself as one of the NFL’s top-tier corners.

The depth at both positions will be determined in training camp. At safety, there will be a spot for this year’s second round pick T.J. Green in some capacity, though it’s expected that he will be mostly a situational player this year as he develops behind Adams - much like Clayton Geathers was last year. The other spot (or maybe two) will go to the winner of the battle between Winston Guy, Dezmen Southward, and undrafted rookies Stefan McClure and Andrew Williamson. Guy seems to be the favorite there, as he played in 12 games with the team last year and was able to contribute on special teams.

The depth at cornerback is even more important due to the modern passing emphasis. Defenses are often in a nickel formation, making the third cornerback role as vital as a starting role despite it not being included in the base defense. That role for the Colts has been occupied by Darius Butler for the past four years, and he has for the most part done a reliable job. He could have competition for the spot this year, however, as last year’s third round pick D’Joun Smith could play his way into the third spot. Smith’s chances are hurt by the fact that he was still dealing with an injury this offseason and missed OTAs and mini-camp, so it’s still expected that Butler will be the number three corner with Smith the number four. That spot is something to watch, though, even as the season begins. The fifth corner spot (and maybe a sixth) will also be up for grabs, with Jalil Brown, Tay Glover-Wright, Tevin Mitchel, and undrafted rookies Daniel Davie, Christopher Milton, Winston Rose, Darius White, and Frankie Williams competing for the spot. Jalil Brown and Tevin Mitchel should especially be worth keeping an eye on. Brown made the team last year after a standout camp and saw significant playing time early on in the year. Also, the Colts liked Mitchel enough to claim him and keep him on their active roster for several weeks last camp despite knowing he would miss the entire season - just so they could place him on their IR.

The loss of Dwight Lowery in free agency was a tough one (the loss of Greg Toler was not), but the Colts had been planning on Clayton Geathers taking over there at some point anyway. They had the succession plan in place, and then they upgraded their cornerback position with the signing of Patrick Robinson. There’s reason for optimism in the secondary, but there’s also a bit of uncertainty as well.