The recent signing by the Indianapolis Colts of Michael Cirino, and subsequent release of Kenneth Acker, has some already questioning the minimizing of the cornerback corps as well as questioning the motive behind adding another safety. In short, I think it’s safe to say that youth and talent are the primary rationale, but there are additional suggestions at play here.
The Colts recently held tryouts for two veteran safeties in Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro. Naturally, the signing of Cirino only bolsters some onlookers’ belief that second-year safety — and Chris Ballard’s very first draft pick — Malik Hooker may be a major question mark to be available for the start of the season.
While that reasoning is sound, I don’t suspect that’s necessarily the case. Hooker has now officially been back on the field running seven months after the devastating ACL/MCL injuries that ended his rookie campaign. Hooker may indeed struggle to be fully able to return Week 1; at this point we simply don’t know and no Colts fan wants to attempt to calculate any player’s return from such an injury. Andrew Luck’s long trek back to becoming his former self has made everyone apprehensive in that respect.
As we look directly at the signing of Cirino, there tends to be a trend to what the Colts are looking for within the process of constructing their roster: versatility. Yes, everyone is, but at this stage of the rebuild it’s paramount to the Colts.
Cirino has played, and flourished in multiple roles in the secondary. He’s played primarily free safety on the back end, and has played in a boundary corner role as well as working the nickel corner position in his collegiate experience.
He looks to be a perfect fit as a zone option at virtually any of those roles in the Colts new scheme. He’s seen — in very minimal film — breaking on the ball very quickly in off-man coverage as well as a guy who can work the middle of the field with great ball skills. He’s got some decent size, but even that fluctuates depending on where you look.
The Colts have him listed at 5-11, but his NFL Draft profile posts him at 6-1. For argument’s sake, let’s just meet in the middle. Some of his praise from Lance Zierlein (on NFL.com) pre-draft was that he “plays with good physicality from press” and that he also was “extremely sudden with short-area quickness to make quick breaks on routes and throws.”
Zierlein also points to his body control is extremely good and that points to his ability to take the ball away, and even suggested that teams may look at him at cornerback due to “his size and athletic traits.”
This, for me at least, leads me to believe that his role may not be at the safety position for the Colts despite the fact that that’s his listing on their roster. The Colts have a much larger need for solid corner play than they do at safety, Hooker is now running in cleats, and the Colts released a veteran cornerback as opposed to one of the other UDFA’s.
This will be one guy to watch closely as the Colts’ offseason continues, especially after the veterans and rookies get on the field at the same time in OTA’s next week.