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TJ Green’s Move to Cornerback Yielding Positive Early Results for Colts

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Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When the Colts drafted defensive back T.J. Green in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft they knew he may take some time to develop. Green started his college career at wide receiver but he used his abbreviated opportunity at safety to show some traits that are not often found on a football field.

At 6-foot 3-inches tall and 211 lbs, Green ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, good for third overall. At Clemson’s Pro Day, he caught the attention of Head Coach Chuck Pagano.

Despite these traits, he had a disappointing rookie season and looked out of position, incapable of properly reading the play in front of him, and too reliant on his physical gifts to try to make up for it. That might work in high school, and to a degree in college, but the NFL is too precise and too calculated with athletes who are also technicians to get by on raw physical ability alone.

This left him exposed on an island as a safety and left the Colts to try something different.

When the team announced his move to cornerback during training camp practice leading up to the the second preseason game in Dallas, the decision seemed matter-of-fact. Green expressed confidence and excitement in making the change and the team moved forward with the plan by giving him immediate reps at corner with the second team defense against the Cowboys.

In two preseason games at his new position Green is still inconsistent but he has also shown some promise for the first time in his NFL career.

Until Green gets more comfortable in his new role, it will not be uncommon to see him get beat on quick routes like this one. However, if he allows no yards after the catch on these kinds of plays, not a whole lot of harm is done.

What he needs to realize is what will show on much of his other film, that he has too much speed and can get to his top speed too fast to feel it necessary to flip his hips prematurely. It shows that he really doesn’t want to get beat deep but going stride-for-stride against speedy receivers is what his body is built to do.

On this play Green covers the receiver well down the field and while he doesn’t get his head around to make a play on the ball, two things are very obvious. First, he isn’t even running hard. He stays with the receiver stride-for-stride and hasn’t hit his top gear yet.

Second, his height is a huge advantage. He doesn’t make the greatest play on the ball and but his size makes it very hard to see the ball.

On the previous play against Dallas, Green was beat on a deep crossing route. He made matters worse by grabbing the offensive player’s face mask when he made the tackle. He responded by making a good play on the ball in the air on this pass.

He is still raw and may have arrived a little early but he uses his height to his advantage. The tight end is used to making these plays against corners because he is so much bigger. At 6-foot 3-inches tall, Green has no trouble knocking this pass away.

While this pass is a completion along the sideline, it is another a difficult catch because Green is right on top of the receiver. The catch is made over the receivers shoulder while he is falling out of bounds.

Green needs to do a better job of playing the ball but I am more interested in seeing Green sticking with his assignment in his first live reps at the position. Learning how to play the ball in the blind spot and to get his head around in coverage is something he has time to do.

There are a whole lot of would-be NFL corners because they are athletically incapable of staying with professional receivers. If Green doesn’t make it, it won’t be for that reason.

Another thing Green brings to the field with his size is strength on the edges. His experience as a safety also helps him setup this tackle perfectly. He engages the tight end and drives him out to toward the boundary to force the ball carrier to redirect or potentially run out of bounds. He disengages the block and makes a one-on-one tackle that saves the first down.

While he struggles to make open field tackles in space from the safety position, he looks natural making a tackle along the boundary.

While Green continues to work on his tackling form, putting him at corner and allowing him to read runs to the edge gives him an opportunity to use his quick burst to lay some punishing blows. Vontae Davis has the ability to make some big hits coming up on screens or quick outs and Green has a similar ability.

Look, T.J. Green will still make some mistakes. Transitioning from wide receiver to safety to cornerback in the matter of only a few seasons is a challenging task for anyone. He still has some bad tackling habits to break and will need to continue learning how to play the ball over his shoulder in coverage but it is clear that he has some traits that could make this position move work.

His speed is clearly world class even against NFL receivers. He can effortlessly keep and maintain tight coverage on go routes. His height is rare at the position and makes it harder for would-be receivers to see the ball in tight coverage and allows him to make plays against larger receivers that traditionally smaller corners cannot. Finally, he really likes to lay the wood as a tackler and getting him out on the perimeter to come up and make plays against the run or against screen passes could yield not just big hits but could result in forced fumbles as well.

He still has a ways to go until he is ready to face the NFL’s best receivers but early results indicate this is a switch that just might work.