Coming out of the 2018 spring training program, there are early indications of progress and setbacks at numerous positions for the Indianapolis Colts. During the summer break period of the off-season, we will take a look at each position on the Colts roster as compared to where it was at this time a year ago and try to project how the roster will look in September.
We now move to the secondary, and to what could be one of the more under-appreciated position groups on the team. Will the they fit in a new scheme and take a new step forward with a new coaching staff? Will they be exposed after Chris Ballard allowed the unit’s most reliable veteran leave in free agency?
The Youth Movement is Real
If Chris Ballard intended to create a nucleus of homegrown players, perhaps no position reflects the intention more than cornerback.
In the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Ballard selected Quincy Wilson. After a year of growing pains and learning experiences, as well as reported lingering injuries, Wilson is projected to be a starter. He has certainly said all of the right things to this point, publicly acknowledged that his effort last summer was simply not good enough, and admitted that he learned a lot from his rookie season. If this is true, and if he can shake the injury bug, Wilson provided plenty of reasons to feel confidence about his future.
In the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Ballard selected Nate Hairston. To say that Hairston outperformed any realistic expectations in his rookie season would be an understatement. With only two seasons at cornerback at Temple, he projected more as a project player who would hopefully fight for reps late in the season. Instead, he started the season as the nickel corner and never looked back.
He wreaked havoc on opponents as a blitzer, including a safety against Russell Wilson — one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the NFL — on the road in Seattle. He did not allow a single touchdown pass through at least 10 weeks and over 214 coverage snaps. If he gets better in his second season, in a scheme that suits his skill-set even better than the one he played in a year ago, he could have another dominant showing.
No Stone Unturned
At roster cut downs, Ballard was ready to snag Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir.
Moore originally signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. He wouldn’t make it to their practice squad. Ballard plugged him in immediately as a special teams gunner. The early returns were certainly discouraging, as he made costly mistakes and looked out of control.
By the end of the season, he was a different player. Even when he had to fill in as a starter on defense he exceeded expectations. In the last four games of the season he had 24 tackles, 5 passes defensed, an interception, and a forced fumble. As with Hairston, Moore will be aided by the switch to a 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme.
He continually improved as a rookie, can he take another step forward in 2018?
While Pierre Desir doesn’t qualify as “youth,” at least in Indianapolis, he may qualify as homegrown for a couple of reasons. First, there is a heavy sphere of influence in the front office from the Seahawks. Ed Dodds served in numerous roles in Seattle, including as a scout and senior personnel executive. He was quite familiar with Desir and assuredly had a big influence on giving him a home in Indianapolis.
Second, Desir is the type of blue collar guy Ballard want in the locker room. He worked hard for the opportunity to take over for Vontae Davis in 2017 and overcame some pretty hefty personal obstacles to carve out a spot in the NFL. He took advantage of his opportunity last season by locking down a starting role before suffering an injury. There is a reason Ballard offered him another contract and a chance to earn a longer-term deal for his future.
Ballard Turned Down Opportunities to Add to Secondary in 2018 Draft
While it is impossible to realistically upgrade every position in one draft, Ballard had four second round picks at his disposal and passed on numerous players who were seen as possible year-one starters. Josh Jackson (personal favorite) went 8 picks after the Colts selected Braden Smith and Darius Leonard. Isaiah Oliver went 6 picks, and Carlton Davis went 11 picks, after the Colts selected Kemoko Turay.
Ultimately, actions speak volumes and the message from Ballard was either that he did not grade these prospects as highly as others or he felt comfortable with the group he already has in the fold.
Does this mean the Ballard is done addressing the position?
Last year tells you all you need to know. He has his eyes on the rest of the NFL and is ready to pounce if the right opportunity presents itself. Still, it isn’t that hard to feel cautious optimism about the young nucleus that has already formed. Three second-year players who have all showed signs of growth or the potential to outperform expectations. One veteran who excelled when he took over for a former Pro Bowler. Things could certainly be a lot worse.
They might be a lot better than a lot of fans think.