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One big Colts training camp question, safeties: How does Julian Blackmon's move to strong safety go?

Blackmon spent the spring learning the in's and outs of playing strong safety in Gus Bradley's defense, and has a tremendous opportunity ahead not only for the Colts, but for himself personally. 

Julian Blackmon

Julian Blackmon is entering the final year of his rookie contract with a clear head and a substantial opportunity.

The Colts this spring moved Blackmon to strong safety after he primarily played free safety over his first three seasons in Indianapolis. Instead of keeping a lid on opposing offenses by playing a deep in the center of the field, Blackmon in 2023 will take on a physical, communication-heavy role closer to the line of scrimmage.

It's a switch Blackmon feels suits him well, especially as a communicator (anyone who's been to a practice in Westfield knows Blackmon is one of the more boisterous guys on the Colts' defense).

"At free safety, it's more instinctual whereas at strong, it's much more vocal," Blackmon said. "I just have to pay attention to my keys and understand what I'm supposed to be looking at pre-snap and I'll be good from there."

But he's always been an underrated tackler and a stout run defender – his PFF run defense grade ranks fifth among safeties with at least 500 snaps since 2020:

Table inside Article
Player Team PFF run defense grade # of run defense snaps
Jimmie Ward San Francisco 49ers 91.1 843
Antoine Winfield Jr. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 91.0 873
Minkah Fitzpatrick Pittsburgh Steelers 89.8 1,202
Marcus Epps Philadelphia Eagles 89.5 711
Julian Blackmon Indianapolis Colts 88.6 777

Blackmon will be pushed during training camp by Nick Cross, the 2022 third-round pick who started the first two games of his rookie year before defensive coordinator Gus Bradley turned to veteran Rodney McLeod Jr. to start at strong safety. Bradley said that move was more about McLeod's communication skills and decade of NFL experience than anything Cross was doing wrong during his age 21 season; Cross will have an opportunity to compete for playing time in 2023.

But if Blackmon nails his move to strong safety, he'll not only shore up a critical component of Bradley's defense, he'll set himself up well to either earn a contract extension from the Colts or become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. The potential for Blackmon to hit next spring with good tape at free and strong safety – as well as nickel corner – would serve him well in securing a second contract in the NFL.

Take a look at some of the best photos of safety Julian Blackmon from 2023 media day.

Blackmon, though, isn't focusing on what may come next spring. His goals during the offseason program, and into training camp and the regular season, centered on doing whatever he can to help the Colts bounce back in 2023.

"It's definitely something that comes across my mind, but it's not something that I want to focus on," Blackmon said. "At the end of the day, I have a new job for me and that's strong safety and I'm willing to approach it and attack it as best as I can. That's one thing that I'm always willing to do – anything for the team. This is what the coach wants me to do, so I'll do my best and I'm just excited for this challenge. For me, it's just one day at a time because that's all I've got."

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