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Colts’ Cornerback Position May Serve Up a Surprise in 2018

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Indianapolis Colts v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Last year the Indianapolis Colts’ cornerback position gave us a few twists and turns throughout the course of the season. Rashaan Melvin put up a career campaign, Vontae Davis was released, Quincy Wilson played well, yet was rarely active and Nate Hairston unexpectedly held on to the nickel role throughout the year and played quite well as a rookie.

Of course these are just a few examples, but when considering how awful the pass defense was as a whole, things like ‘tied for last in the league in yards per pass play,’ and ‘dead last in the league, allowing 64 20-plus yard plays’ are what seem to come to mind for most. This year, the position is filled with rookies and second-year guys who aren’t getting much attention.

With only three corners on the roster with at least 3 years experience, this crew is bound to offer up some surprises this season as well. Thus far, in the eyes of most fans, the de facto starters are Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson on the outside, and Nate Hairston in the nickel. But, there’s another guy who has gotten the coaching staff’s attention as well.

The scheme change is going to affect most of those on the roster who were in Indy last season. Wilson was primarily a man-coverage guy coming out of Florida and will have to prove that he has the instincts in more zone looks. Hairston, on the other hand, will actually be coming into a more familiar role in which he succeeded at Temple as will Desir who was lauded coming out of school for his attack-the-ball style in zone coverage and quality tackling ability.

In the meantime, it’s been Kenny Moore II who has been getting talked up for what he’s shown in the offseason program. Chris Ballard has been a fan of Moore since claiming off waivers from the New England Patriots in early September of last year. This year, with a new staff, he seems to be making an early impression on them too.

Colts’ defensive coordinator, Matt Eberflus, is liking what he’s seen of Moore. Last season should have given most of us a heads up on how tough Moore is despite his 5-foot-9 frame. Moore totaled 33 tackles in 2017 while starting only 5 games and was as, or more, productive as any of the cornerbacks on the roster given playing time.

Eberflus is seeing an ideal fit into his scheme on the backend in Moore.

“I think he is a player that we look for in terms of showing what our system is about. In terms of his hustle, his mental makeup, his character and what he displays on the football field. He has done a really good job of that this spring so far.”

But, how is Moore going to unseat one of the starters? Well, first and foremost we need to throw out — to a point — who we feel will be starting where. I’m not so sure the Colts won’t try Hairston out on the boundary this year as they did last season in training camp. Additionally, maybe shouldn’t pencil-in Desir as a starter any more than we can Wilson at this point.

Even though these three make logical sense to be the leaders for the starting roles, this coaching staff is still going to want to see each of them in various spots to determine who best fits at each position as if they’ve never seen any of them play before now. With that, I believe Moore has as much a shot to start as any of them.

I’m intrigued to see if Moore continues as a boundary corner or whether they try him out in the slot. This could possibly lead to interesting decisions with the rest of the group as well. As much as we all want Wilson to shine and Desir to realize the potential many saw in his pre-draft process, does anyone really care who earns the role if they end up being the right fit and succeed?

Not at this point. All of the corners are relatively young and unproven, but Frank Reich has reiterated how comfortable he is with who they have in the secondary. This, for me, says that the competition for these positions — especially at cornerback — is going to be quite interesting from the end of July and well into August.

It’s reasonable to assume that all of these corners will be used throughout the season quite a bit. But, will we see an unsuspected starter emerge? Will one of the undrafted additions make the roster after a standout summer and end up serving a significant purpose throughout the season?

I think we’d all prefer that the players at the top of the position have a great year, but injuries happen, players decline and ascend and new coaches don’t always see players the same as their predecessors did. This should be a very fun group to watch through camp and the preseason.