If you’ve been following the Indianapolis Colts’ offseason so far this year, the most applicable and correct way to sum up the defense is this: wide open competition.
We’ve heard the theme of competition preached all offseason by Chris Ballard and company, and the Colts are hoping to have players truly battling for their jobs. Earlier this past week, we also heard defensive coordinator Ted Monachino describe the inside linebacker competition as “wide open,” meaning that those jobs are truly there to be won.
Inside linebacker isn’t the only competition that’s wide open, however. In fact, that’s probably a fitting way to describe the entire defense. But in particular the secondary too has plenty of spots yet to be determined, which is good news for the team’s three draft picks in the secondary
“It’s wide open,” head coach Chuck Pagano said on Friday. “It’s wide open back there. So as fast as [the rookies] can grasp this and get on the field – again, we’re in shorts. They’re going to be in shorts for their seven week program starting on Monday. Everybody is in shorts, but every spot is open back there. We’ve got vets, we’ve got returning guys but it’s a great opportunity for all three of those guys. [Malik] Hooker is not doing anything, we all knew that when we took him. He’ll be ready by training camp, but he’s going to get a ton of mental reps. Quincy [Wilson] looked good. [Nate] Hairston looked good. They’ve got as good an opportunity as anybody else.”
The rookies do have a very good chance to start, at least Hooker and Wilson. At this point, it’s expected that Malik Hooker will start at safety alongside Clayton Geathers and that Quincy Wilson will start at cornerback opposite of Vontae Davis. There’s still a few months left before the start of the regular season, though, so there’s plenty of time for that competition to play out. And one of the biggest wild cards could be where Darius Butler plays, as he’s proven to be a good nickel corner but is also making the full-time switch to safety this year - at least, he was before the draft. Now, what will happen with Butler? That’s the wild card in this secondary discussion.
“What will happen is those best five guys will be out there in nickel,” Ted Monachino said earlier in the week. “And if Darius isn’t the nickel corner, then if he’s one of those best five he’ll be playing the deeper parts of the field. He’s pumped up about whatever role. He knows and we all know what a blessing and an opportunity it is to be in an NFL building. He’s just thrilled to be back and can’t wait to get started carving out a new niche and a new role because from a leadership standpoint, that spotlight has become brighter with Darius.”
While Hooker, Geathers, Davis, Wilson, and Butler figure to be those best five guys once the season gets underway, that doesn’t ignore the need for competition. Remember, guys like Nate Hairston or T.J. Green or Rashaan Melvin or any number of other guys could really impress.
So, in case you’re not getting the memo from the Colts this offseason: there are a lot of positions that are wide open, especially on defense. That plays into what Chris Ballard has said: “You can’t preach competition and not live it.” The opportunities are there for the Colts’ rookies; now it’s up to them to take advantage of them, and they’re getting a start at doing just that this weekend in rookie mini-camp.