INDIANAPOLIS — Rewind a couple months, and the secondary was one of the Indianapolis Colts' biggest mysteries.
Three of the team's top cornerbacks — Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore II and Nate Hairston — were all entering their second NFL seasons and had just 14 starts under their collective belt. The wily veteran, Pierre Desir, would be entering his fifth year, with 33 games to his name.
At safety, the duo of Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers leaves zero question of talent. Rather, would they be healthy? Both entered training camp the last two years recovering from surgeries.
Now looking at the Colts' secondary, however, the unit has been a definite strength for a new Colts defense that is surprising a lot of people through the first three weeks of the season.
"I feel like we're at a good spot right now," Hooker said. "Of course, we still got a lot of work to put in, but right now I feel like we're progressing each week. That's the main goal, just get better each week."
The Colts are tied for the fourth-fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed in the NFL, and for a defensive backfield that was viewed as a potential enigma, several players are receiving high marks.
Pro Football Focus has given five Colts defensive backs shining grades for their performance through these first three games, considering safety Matthias Farley (84.8) high quality/elite, Desir (79.7), Hooker (77.0) and Moore (69.3) as high quality, and Geathers (65.7) as above average.
Farley (No. 6 safety) and Desir (No. 8 cornerback) actually rank top 10 in the NFL at their respective positions so far.
Moore, meanwhile, is showing the ability to take away opposing receivers, as quarterbacks only have a 43.8 passer rating when targeting him, which is eighth-best in the league.
Count Moore's head coach among those taking notice of his corner's standout play.
Asked by a fan on Monday during his weekly appearance on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live" if Moore could become a mainstay on the Colts' roster, Frank Reich said, "Yeah, he's definitely the kind of guy we want to be a mainstay.
"You love everything about Kenny," Reich continued. "The way he plays, his attitude. He's the kind of guy we want on our team."
Moore played well as a rookie in 2017, but he has been noticeably better since the beginning of this summer's training camp.
What's changed for him?
"Last year, I was in more of a sixth man role (like in basketball). This year it's more of a focus on corner and honing in to the things people are doing around me, (and) just having more knowledge and awareness of the things that's going on around me."
There are a couple big reasons why Moore and this secondary are playing as well as they are so far.
First, these are young players who are naturally developing. They were already talented and had a lot of playing time last year. Now, they've got another year of experience, so the improvement hasn't been a huge surprise.
Secondly, the Colts' new defensive scheme allows for younger players to perform more freely and rely on their speed, athleticism and instincts. By focusing on the fundamentals and using basic schemes, players don't have to constantly rack their brains and can instead just play football.
"It's different than last year, but it gives you more freedom looking at the quarterback, so we're enjoying that right now," Hairston said. "Hopefully, we'll get to make some more plays."
More challenges ahead
Above is a play that NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger points out that shows Hooker's range, speed and ball skills. Despite making a great play on the ball and saving a potential long touchdown, Hooker looks back and wonders what could have come from the play had he intercepted it.
"I could've picked it. I wish I would've picked that," Hooker said. "I definitely feel like I could've had an interception. But I mean, it was a great play. If I would've intercepted it, it would've been a key point in the game and possibly helping up win that game, so I put that on me. You've got to make that play."
Hooker and those in the Colts' secondary haven't been consistently tested deep downfield throughout a game with plays like that yet — just some shots here or there — but the second-year safety thinks that could change this week when the team hosts quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans this Sunday.
While we've seen Hooker make some nice pass breakups so far this season, we have yet to see any of his spectacular interceptions. Could that change this week? Perhaps.
Whether it's Hooker, Moore or anyone else in the secondary, however, this young group is focused on making plays.
"Seeing other guys out there making plays, just being in the right spot and buying into what they're teaching, it makes it easier on me in the back end and the secondary overall to have guys up there that's willing to take coaching and do their job exactly," Hooker said.