Just as Dallis Flowers – a 2022 undrafted free agent in his first year as an NFL starting cornerback – was ascending, his season was cut short.
In Weeks 3 and 4 against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams, Flowers felt like he was starting to put it all together as a cornerback in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme. Against the Rams, Flowers had a couple of impressive pass break-ups – first, physically knocking a Matthew Stafford pass out of the hands of record-setting rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua; later, he drove down on a deep out route and swatted a pass away from wide receiver Van Jefferson.
Late in the fourth quarter of that game against the Rams, though, Flowers sustained an Achilles' injury. A promising season that was just beginning came to a sudden end.
"I started to be real, real comfortable probably Game 3 in Baltimore and Game 4 at home when it happened against the Rams," Flowers said. "I was bringing the calls to life — all of us were. It was a good game. It was kind of a breakout game for me on defense. I'm going to just try to get back and go from there and keep going."
When Flowers was injured, his 70.6 Pro Football Focus coverage grade ranked 23rd among 73 cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps in Weeks 1-4. He was particularly adept at not allowing explosive passes – just 1.1 percent of his coverage snaps led to a pass going 15 or more yards, the 11th-lowest rate in the NFL at the time of his injury.
The Colts saw something in Flowers when he was brought on as an undrafted free agent from Pittsburg State last year – his combination of speed (4.40-second 40-yard dash) and length (78-inch wingspan) translated on to the field during training camp, earning him a roster spot as a rookie. He initially got on the field as a returner and began playing cornerback down the stretch in 2022, then earned a starting role at cornerback heading into the 2023 season.
"We thought he was playing pretty good," general manager Chris Ballard said. "... Getting Dallis Flowers back will be big."
Flowers focused on keeping a positive attitude through a grueling rehab process. He came to appreciate the little gains he made each day even more – instead of posting highlights on social media, he posted the incremental progress he made (while he doesn't have a definitive return date, his focus is on being back by training camp). Flowers dove into studying more situational football so his mind would be ready for his return.
His father, Charles, frequently made the three-hour drive down I-65 from Oak Park, Ill. to be support his son through the process, something Flowers greatly appreciated. And all of this helped Flowers through a challenging time both mentally and physically.
"It does check your spirit," Bradley said after Flowers' injury in October. "Here is a guy that's got a great spirit about him – he gets his chance, he's starting, he's learning, he's playing some good ball and then this happens. I think the challenge for him is to rehab and do everything right there but also, it's a long process so his spirit is very important."
Flowers took on that challenge and held a strong mindset as he rehabbed behind the scenes in Indianapolis. And that'll benefit him, because once Flowers get back on the field, both he and the Colts expect he can pick up where he left off in 2023.
"Stay prayed up, stay positive as much as I can in this situation," Flowers said. "Of course it's easy to be negative when something bad happens. So I just try my best to go the other way, go the opposite way. It's always going to be light at the end of the tunnel and just better myself every day to get back to where I was."