INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and training camp — right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the cornerback position:
• After ending his rookie season on a high note, can Quincy Wilson take the next step?
Quincy Wilson's rookie season in 2017 can only be described as a roller coaster. He was the Colts' second-round pick out of Florida and the obvious hope was that he could come in right away and not only start, but become a instant playmaker for the Indy defense.
That didn't end up coming to fruition, however. Wilson has since admitted being a little out of shape at times early in his rookie season, and he fell out of favor with the coaching staff. And after showing promise in his first-career start Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals, Wilson suffered a knee injury that would linger the next few weeks — and then even when he was healthy enough to play, he would often be healthy scratch on gamedays.
Wilson stayed focused and eventually found his way back to the field, however, playing in the Colts' final five games of the season, and starting the last four. He said he started to relax and just have fun playing the game again, and headed into the offseason with momentum.
So will that carry into Wilson's second year in 2018? During the offseason workout program, Wilson wasn't always active or a full participant during practice sessions available to be watched by reporters, so it's unknown whether or not he's dealing with any sort of injury, but the general thought is, once again, that, if healthy, Wilson should be able to emerge as the team's top cornerback over time.
Wilson was humbled a bit in his rookie season, but he still remains extremely confident that he will undoubtedly turn into the player he believes — and the Colts believe — he can be. Perhaps a brand new coaching staff and a shift to more of a zone defense approach in the back end can also help.
• Will Nate Hairston play more on the outside?
A fifth-round pick by the Colts in last year's NFL Draft, Nate Hairston surprised many when grabbed hold of the Colts' slot cornerback position during training camp — and never let go.
And Hairston didn't just end up performing well for the Colts; he was one of the top young slot cornerbacks in the league.
According to Pro Football Focus, by Week 10, Hairston was yet to allow a touchdown in 214 coverage snaps from the slot; only Tyrann Mathieu in 2013 had gone more coverage snaps in the slot through 10 weeks of a season and hadn't allowed a score.
Hairston was also extremely productive in limited opportunities as a blitzer, as he led all NFL cornerbacks in pass-rush productivity, according to PFF, finishing with six pressures, three hurries, one QB hit and two sacks, one of which caused a safety.
But heading into his second NFL season, could Hairston see more time in coverage on the outside?
It was something we observed at times throughout open offseason practices, as Pierre Desir would often be on one side and Hairston would be on the other with the Colts' theoretical "first-team" defense.
But a couple factors make this one hard to determine at this point of time: as previously mentioned, Wilson was on and off the field throughout the offseason program, so this could just be the team creating a backup plan; and the Colts' defense cycled in many, many players throughout practices this offseason, so it was hard to really pinpoint, other than a couple specific positions, who could be considered "starters."
So this is definitely something to keep an eye on when training camp practices get started on July 26.
• Can "talent" help make up for the "experience" factor?
The Colts have a lot of young talent on their offseason roster at cornerback, but they are hoping that talent can help make up for a lack of experience at the position.
As of now, Desir is the most experienced of the Colts' cornerbacks, with just 13 career starts over four seasons to his credit — six of which coming last season before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury.
But because of injuries and other issues last year, the Colts were forced to throw some young, unproven cornerbacks in the fire and see how they responded, and out of that, they liked what they saw, particularly out of 2017 undrafted rookie free agent Kenny Moore II, who finished with 38 tackles, five passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble.
So with Desir, Wilson, Hairston and Moore, the Colts have four cornerbacks who are young, but have some positive momentum from the 2017 to draw from to eventually get the experience they want out of the position group.
"Youth is OK if it's talented, and I think our youth is talented," Colts defensive backs/safeties coach Alan Williams said last month. "So that's always a good thing. That means you get to mold the guys how you want them to be. So, as a coach, that's what you want: we get to teach them, mold them, make sure that they're drinking the Kool-Aid. And the guys are, so that's a good thing."
Chris Milton is another name to watch at the position, as the Georgia Tech product last year eventually became one of the Colts' top special teams contributors in 14 games played.
Juante Baldwin, Lashard Durr, Robert Jackson, Henre' Tolliver and D.J. White are also Colts cornerbacks trying to earn a spot with a strong performance in training camp and the preseason.