WESTFIELD, Ind. – There’s no lack of confidence from a position that lacks anything resembling top-to-bottom experience.
Just take a quick poll of the Indianapolis Colts’ cornerbacks room.
JuJu Brents: “Regardless of how old we are in that room, we all have confidence in each other. It doesn’t matter who’s going to be out there. We’re all going to be out there to compete for the best of the team.’’
Dallis Flowers: “It’s definitely a blessing to have this opportunity to showcase my skills and my talent.’’
Darrell Baker Jr.: “I feel like I’ve always been able to do this. All the work that I put in during this offseason and then when I get those opportunities, just step up for my brothers, and my coaches give me that trust.’’
Darius Rush: “It’s not a big deal, honest. You’ve got guys who come into the league as rookies and come out as starters. Just because we’re a young room doesn’t mean we don’t have guys who’ll come out and compete.’’
Flowers and Baker have taken the majority of first-team reps at corner during training camp, flanking savvy veteran nickel Kenny Moore II. Flowers was a core special teams player last season as an undrafted rookie until injuries piled up at corner and he played extensively on defense over the final four games, starting the week 18 game with Houston. Baker’s rookie season a year ago consisted of three games and 31 special teams reps.
Brents was a second-round pick in April and the Warren Central H.S. product is expected to earn a starting spot, perhaps for the Sept. 10 opener against Jacksonville. If, that is, he can overcome missing the entirety of the offseason work while rehabbing from wrist surgery and watching the first six camp practices while dealing with a hamstring injury.
Rush followed Brents to Indy and into the NFL in round 5, and his transition from South Carolina has been slowed by hamstring and shoulder injuries. He’s shown flashes since getting on the Grand Park practice fields.
Everyone is expecting Moore to fashion a bounce-back season after an un-Moore-like ’22. He sought an extension that never materialized, had to acquaint himself with his role in Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme and dealt with a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss the final five games.
The trusty playmaker failed to generate an interception for the first time in his six years with the Colts. He had four in each of the two previous seasons.
“Last year was a year of adversity. A year of lessons,’’ Moore admitted as he reported to came in last July. “It was probably my first year that I had to be self-conscious . . . of how to get back up and return to who I want to be and how I play.
“Attitude, mentality, I think I let myself down. I didn’t really respond the way I wanted to, just individually. . . . I’m over whatever took place and however it took place. I think we’re all on the same page.’’
Bradley and position coach Ron Milus have noticed a different Moore, a more focused Moore.
“We’ve been fortunate to be around some very good nickels in this league and in our system,’’ Bradley said. “Right now, Kenny Moore is playing the best of the corners we’ve had in a few years now. He’s playing at a high level. He’s a guy that the defense, no doubt they look to him as the standard that we’re trying to get to.’’
But that’s the overriding issue and concern.
Moore, 27, has appeared in 87 games with 74 starts and 14 interceptions in six seasons.
The other nine corners share seven starts and one interception. Six are 25 or younger. Chris Lammons, who’s been suspended for the first three games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct penalty, and Tony Brown have combined for 91 regular-season appearances. But each primarily has been a special teams contributor.
To drive home the rarity of the group Bradley and Milus are dealing with, consider seven of the 10 corners entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. The only exceptions are three selected in the April draft: Brents, Rush and seventh-rounder Jaylon Jones.
The undrafted corners, said Milus, “are like self-made guys.’’
The decision to lean on a young, inexperienced group of cornerbacks was calculated, and similar to a reset in 2018 after the Colts parted ways with former Pro Bowler Vontae Davis.
“We kind of made that decision to go that way,’’ General Manager Chris Ballard said. “We made that decision after the season and said, ‘Look, we’re going to go young again.’’’
Ballard granted Stephon Gilmore’s wish and traded him to Dallas. Brandon Facyson returned to Las Vegas as a free agent.
Those moves were part of the blueprint. Another action wasn’t. Isaiah Rodgers Sr. was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL’s gambling policy, and immediately released.
Just like that, roughly 67% of the cornerback snaps from last season were gone. Of the returning 956 snaps, Moore handled 773.
Milus is in his second season with the Colts and 24th as an NFL assistant. This group, he noted, is the youngest he’s dealt with.
“It will be interesting to see how it all plays out,’’ he said. “Some of these guys have done a good job. We’re excited where those guys are at, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. I’m good with the young players because there’s not a lot of bad habits, hopefully. Now they’re able to take what we’re telling them to do and try to apply it on game day.’’
The first major test comes Saturday when the Colts open their preseason schedule at Buffalo.
That, said Milus, “will be a nice little test for us.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.