One of the big areas of need for the Colts entering the offseason was at cornerback, and the Colts did take steps to shore up that area.
Nevertheless, some questions still remain. There’s not only the questions of how Quincy Wilson will adjust to the NFL level and whether the Colts will re-sign Vontae Davis after this season, but there’s also the question of how their nickel cornerback position will play out.
Right now, it’s expected that Vontae Davis and Quincy Wilson will be the starters on the outside, while Rashaan Melvin should be nice depth there in case of injury. But in today’s NFL the nickel corner is essentially a starter and plays a ton of snaps, making him an important piece.
In recent years, Darius Butler has been very reliable in that role, but he has made the move to safety. The drafting of Malik Hooker gives the Colts more flexibility if they wish to play Butler in the slot more, but we don’t yet have a great idea as to how the Colts plan to use Butler this year. Right now, their options at the nickel cornerback spot are open, and that includes keeping Butler up to speed just in case.
“I think we keep him oiled up there,” Pagano said last week regarding Butler. “I think he’s always somebody that if we had to, we could throw him right in and he wouldn’t miss a beat. D-Mo [Darryl Morris] has done a nice job and he’s played good football for us in there. We’re really trying to get those young guys – Nate [Hairston], and a guy like Danté Blackmon has got some good football IQ and a good skillset. So we’re trying to get them most of the work. But if we have to [play Butler there], we can.”
From the sounds of that comment from Pagano, it seems the Colts aren’t planning on having Butler as their primary nickel corner guy right now, but as we know that could always change. They’re looking at their options - which include Darryl Morris, Nate Hairston, and Dante Blackmon - and know that Butler can play there too if need be.
One thing that doesn’t appear to be in their plans, however, is giving Quincy Wilson many snaps in the slot. “The only reason that’d be if we’re in man coverage and they had both receivers over,” Pagano said last week when asked if Wilson got any reps in the slot at that day’s practice. “He happened to be the guy on the inside receiver. It may look like it from afar, we don’t give you guys that close of a look so it’s not really on you but it’s kind of the same thing. But he wasn’t playing nickel.”
I think the way the Colts use Darius Butler - and by extension the nickel cornerback position - is one of the most interesting things to watch for as we progress this offseason and get closer to the season, as that is a big wild card for the entire secondary. Butler is more than capable of playing there, so if Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker both get back healthy that could be an option. But Darryl Morris showed some flashes last year and could be a solid option, while we have yet to see what Nate Hairston can do at the NFL level. So the Colts have options that it seems they’re working with right now, but the good news is that they have a proven slot corner in Darius Butler to turn to if they need help.