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Colts 2016 season in review: Emergence of Clayton Geathers an encouraging sign at safety

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In looking back at the 2016 season for the Colts, if you had to name one player on the defensive side of the football that really impressed in a positive way and exceeded expectations, it might very well be Clayton Geathers.

He played in 15 games as a rookie in 2015, but only started two games. The Colts let Dwight Lowery walk in free agency last offseason in large part due to Geathers, and he was unquestionably the starter alongside Mike Adams in the offseason. He was injured while working out away from the team, however, suffering a broken foot that caused him to miss training camp, the preseason, and the first week of the regular season. After he returned, though, he regained his starting spot and would start the next nine games before suffering a neck injury that ultimately ended his season.

Geathers really impressed in 2016. He recorded 59 tackles and five passes defensed, and he was more effective than those numbers indicate. One of the biggest things he brought to the Colts was his versatility, as he played both as a safety and also in the box as a linebacker. He was very good and that’s encouraging for the Colts moving forward. They may have questions all over the defense, but with Geathers they have a good, versatile starting safety - provided he can stay healthy.

The other spot, however, will draw more attention. Mike Adams occupied the spot once again for the third straight season last year, starting 15 games and recording 79 tackles, two passes defensed, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He was solid, but he’s set to become a free agent and will turn 36 this offseason.

Another safety who’s set to become a free agent really wasn’t a safety at all until last year, as Darius Butler has been a slot cornerback - an area he once again excelled at last year. But as the season went on, Butler started to play more and more at safety, and he said after the season that he’s ready to transition to safety full-time. He actually held his own as a safety, but it also provides another wrinkle to the Colts’ offseason plans: do they re-sign Adams and let Butler walk? Re-sign Butler and let Adams walk? Re-sign both? Neither?

That’s a question the Colts will have to think through, because so far their depth at safety hasn’t shown up like they hoped. They drafted T.J. Green in the second round of last year’s draft as a project player, but he wound up playing quite a bit as a rookie. He played in 15 games and started four of them, recording 43 tackles and two passes defensed. He struggled quite a bit as a rookie, but again, he was taken as a project player so it’s not time to give up on him quite yet.

Those four guys were the main contributors at safety for the Colts in 2016, but Matthias Farley should also be noted here because the undrafted rookie would up playing in all 16 games, contributing heavily on special teams.

The bright spot of the unit for the Colts was definitely Clayton Geathers, who took significant strides forward in his second season and who showed plenty of reasons for optimism moving forward, provided he gets and stays healthy. The other safety spot, however, will be an area of focus this offseason, as the Colts ideally shouldn’t go into next season relying on Green to have to start full-time. Whether that means Mike Adams, Darius Butler, or someone else, the Colts would be wise to make a move or two at the position this offseason. With Geathers under contract, however, the Colts have at least one reliable starter for 2017 - which is more than can be said at some other spots on the defense.