WESTFIELD, Ind. – Colts general manager Chris Ballard recalled last week how safety Nick Cross "stuck out like a sore thumb" on the second day of this year's NFL Draft. The Colts had a second-round grade on Cross, and as the third round rolled on, the team's brain trust decided: We gotta go get this guy.
Three and a half months later, Cross stuck out again – this time on the practice field, on the second play of his first training camp practice. The 6-foot, 212 pound safety positioned himself in front of tight end Mo Alie-Cox in a seven-on-seven period, tipped a pass from Matt Ryan in the air and then dove to his left to come down with an interception.
"I think what showed up in practice is what we did see in his college tape – some of the things that he did really well there," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "That position he's playing, we're asking a lot of that. There's going to be a lot on his plate, a lot of different techniques. He's pretty cerebral too. He seems to be picking it up. He just needs a lot of reps. I think physically, he has a lot of the characteristics we're looking for."
The Colts are working Cross primarily as a strong safety in Bradley's defense, but he has the experience and versatility to play a deeper free safety, too.
For Cross, he feels like the experience of playing with guys like DeForest Buckner, Stephon Gilmore and Kenny Moore II in practice is elevating his game.
"Just being able to go out there and play gives confidence that you can run with them," Cross said. "And you got to go out there and be on your A-game, you gotta communicate, play at a high level and make sure you're on your stuff."
Updates and notes on other Colts rookies:
- Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said wide receiver Alec Pierce is "light years" ahead of where Pittman was as a rookie two years ago. "He's a smart kid and he's not really messing up," Pittman said, "which is really great for a guy that young going up against Kenny Moore (and) Stephon."
- Pittman, of course, entered the NFL in 2020 without any on-field work before training camp due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the positive impact of the Colts' full offseason program – rookie minicamp, OTAs, veteran minicamp, meetings, training, etc. – is being felt by this year's rookie class. "The OTAs period was my learning curve, getting adjusted to everything and now I'm just kind of rolling into everything," tight end Jelani Woods said.
- As Woods is getting up to speed, he's catching passes from two quarterbacks he looked up to as a kid. Woods, an Atlanta-area native, grew up watching Matt Ryan; as a quarterback at Cedar Grove High School, Woods studied Nick Foles.
- Woods said he's feeling comfortable in the Colts' offense after spending his summer studying his playbook and working on the details of his routes and blocking assignments. "I kind of feel up to speed," Woods said, "so I feel very relaxed and like I definitely belong here and I've been on the team for a couple years even though there's still a learning curve."
- Defensive tackle Eric Johnson II was removed from the non-football injury list last week.
- Two undrafted free agents to watch over the next few weeks: Linebackers JoJo Domann and Sterling Weatherford. Fellow linebacker Bobby Okereke described Domann as "an instinctive, smart kid," and Weatherford as a "hell of an athlete." Those two guys are part of a linebacker room with plenty of undrafted free agents, including James Skalski and Forrest Rhyne. "Great room, smart guys," Okereke said.
The Colts held an evening practice during Back Together Saturday.