INDIANAPOLIS —What's the latest in #ColtsCamp from the players' perspective? Hear from safeties Khari Willis and Tavon Wilson in today's edition of "Camp Chatter."
Safety Khari Willis
» After an emotional rookie year, Willis feels more settled on and off the field heading into 2020: As detailed in this feature by The Athletic's Zak Keefer, Willis spent most of his rookie season last year sleeping on a pull-out couch at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, where his twin sons, who were born 13 weeks premature, were being treated under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses.
Somehow, Willis was able to spend his days focused enough on his first NFL season that he'd become a starter at safety for the Colts by midseason, and then he'd immediately head over to the hospital to be there for his sons throughout the night.
There's good news on both fronts: Willis said today his sons are "doing excellent," and now he can focus more on the task at hand on the football field entering Year 2.
"I think it will be one less thing that I have to deal with from an emotional standpoint. I think it obviously was an emotional experience that I'm blessed and grateful that I came out of," Willis said. "Now going into Year 2, I can focus more so just on ball as opposed to anything tragic happening or something like that. I think I definitely learned and gained a lot of experience from it. I'm grateful. My boys are doing excellent. They'll be able to spend a lot of time here at home with me so I'm excited about that. I think just going forward, I can just focus on my job a little bit more."
» Willis' main priority this year? More takeaways: Even with everything going on off the field last year, Willis had a solid rookie season. He compiled 71 tackles (two for a loss) with one pass breakup and one quarterback hit, and finished with Pro Football Focus' No. 4 grade among rookie safeties.
Willis played everywhere for Matt Eberflus' defense: back in coverage, in the box and even a bit up close to the line, and matched solid tackling skills with an ability to cover in the back end.
Willis' role could grow even more heading into his second season, as he hits the ground running as the team's starting strong safety. He said adding more impact plays this time around is one of his top goals.
"I think from last year, one of the places I realized I could get better at is helping our team turn the ball over more," Willis said. "I think that's something I've done throughout my playing career every year. That's something that I can do a lot better job of than I did last year. I think that's one of the main things.
"Obviously, having another year in the system, being more sharp on my assignments and being able to focus less on what I have to do and try to be a vocal leader here in the backend. I think those two things of being a vocal leader and turning the ball over – I think those are the two most things that I'm excited to work on."
Safety Tavon Wilson
» Wilson waited for the right opportunity, and is happy it came with the Colts: Wilson, who entered the NFL in 2012 as a second-round selection by the New England Patriots, has plenty of experience under his belt.
In 110 career games with 43 starts with the Patriots (2012-15) and the Detroit Lions (2016-19), he has ecorded 331 tackles (255 solo), 16.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 19 passes defensed, eight interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), one forced fumble, six fumble recoveries and 26 special teams stops.
He has seen action in eight postseason contests (one start) and has compiled 12 tackles (nine solo).
When he became a free agent this offseason, however, Wilson knew it'd be important to find the right place for him; so when the Colts had a need at the safety position after Rolan Milligan decided to opt-out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson jumped at the chance to join an organization he had his eye on for a while.
Wilson has fit right in since signing on Aug. 11, and has already played a major role in the secondary at the team's recent training camp practices.
"I thought it was best for me and my family to take my time with my decision and kind of see what was out there for me," Wilson said. "I've always kind of had my eye on Indianapolis. I had a former coach here, respect the GM a whole lot, the head coach a whole lot, so this is somewhere where I wanted to be"
» Wilson takes his role as a team leader very seriously: Veteran experience is critical at any position, but Colts general manager Chris Ballard thinks it's especially important in the secondary, where young players could use a consistent presence to get them through the ups and downs they'll be facing and show them the ropes on the practice field and in the film room.
It didn't take long for Wilson to establish that kind of leadership in his first couple weeks in Indy; already several young defensive players have talked about Wilson's impact in this area.
Wilson said he mostly takes a lead-by-example approach, but he isn't scared to speak up if and when it is needed.
"I think all of us here are grown men so a lot of guys are not going to follow your words, they're going to follow your actions," he said. "I come here and try to be as consistent as I can every day, be a great example for the young guys. When I feel the need to step in and be vocal, I will. I can't tell you when I have to step up and say something to someone or get them in line or whatever, but I could hold guys accountable as well but I think here, just being a lead-by-example type of guy and just fill it in where needed vocally."