INDIANAPOLIS – Every position on a football team is fraught with peril, both in competition and from those who observe it.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell was a defensive back at Iowa, so he is aware of the acute challenges facing everyone who plays along the last line of defense.
Caldwell notes that a defensive back must have a riverboat gambler's nature with a short memory. He is kidding, but he is not kidding.
"That's absolutely right," said cornerback Jacob Lacey. "You win some, you lose some. If you harp on it too much with a win or a loss, either or, you can really take yourself out of the game. I think that's a pretty accurate description of how it goes. It's a joke in itself, but it's kind of reality. A lot of truth is said in jest."
Lacey is a prime example of a player who puts successes and moments that were not so successful in the past. Lacey has done so admirably over the last three weeks for Indianapolis.
Lacey is in his third season with Indianapolis after joining the club as an undrafted free agent. He opened nine of 16 appearances as a rookie, then started eight of 12 games in 2010.
He started five of the first six games of this season before moving into a reserve role for four of the next five games. The one game he missed during that span, at Tennessee, he was deactivated from the active roster.
It was a tough experience for Lacey, but he has bounced back in fine fashion. In opening the last three outings at left cornerback, he has provided play that has made a difference.
This past Sunday against Tennessee, Lacey totaled 12 tackles and two passes defensed. Many of his 12 tackles were physical in nature, and one of his passes defensed was special.
With the Colts ahead in the third quarter, 10-6, Lacey pirated a Matt Hasselbeck pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. The points eventually stood as the winning ones in the contest, and it was the second time in his career Lacey had taken an interception back for a score. The first time was as a rookie against St. Louis.
It was a performance that did not escape the eye of his head coach.
"Jacob (Lacey) has played extremely well here down the stretch," said Caldwell. "He's tackled much better. (Sunday) he had 12 tackles. He is tackling better. For a guy his size, he is a real force over there. The last few weeks he's been doing a very nice job. He broke on the ball extremely well. He did a nice job in terms of ripping the ball out of the receiver's arms and putting it in the end zone. He also almost had another pick down in the red zone as well. He had a real good jump on it, and he broke up a number of passes as well. I'm proud of the way he came back. He was down earlier in the season. It was a little tough on him, but he was able to bounce back. He's playing well right now."
Lacey admits the period when he was out of the starting lineup was difficult. In particular, the missed game at Tennessee was a low moment for him.
"That was a terrible feeling," said Lacey. "It's something I never want to feel again. I have nobody to blame for that. It's behind me now, and I'm trying to move forward."
Lacey is to be credited for his determination to get back on the field. The season has provided ups and downs, but his trend, as the late Al McGuire would say, is on the uptick.
"Personally, it's a humbling thing from being a starter to being pulled and to get a chance to come back and redeem myself and really redeem my name and to be able to come out and help us get a win. The key the whole time is wanting to play. They gave me another shot, another opportunity. I had to make the best of it. … I just leaned on my family. My family was there for me. They told me to keep my head up and keep playing. This is what I do. This is how I've been forever. It wasn't really a big difference in how I came to work, it was just mainly from a mental standpoint of keeping my head in the game.
"I feel like I'm still in the process of doing it (redeeming himself). We still have two more games left. I don't think I'll be complete until the season is done and I've gone out and shown in my last sightings that I can play."
Safety Antoine Bethea is the veteran presence this season in a secondary that has been ravaged by injury. He has witnessed Lacey's play and commends him on how he has handled the tough parts of the season like a professional should do.
"Like a pro, like a pro," said Bethea about Lacey's moxie. "He started and got taken out of the starting lineup. Regardless, he comes in the meeting rooms and has done the job like a pro is supposed to. I'm happy for him. He's done a great job. He has handled everything like a pro is supposed to handle it."
Defensive end Dwight Freeney was pleased to see the type of game Lacey had against Tennessee. Freeney is happy to see the rebound in Lacey's play.
"He has a lot of talent," said Freeney. "That type of performance he came out with last week is the type of performance we know he's capable of having. That's why he was still around. It's great to see it, and I know he has a lot more in him. It's a building block for him to continue to play that way."
Caldwell knows the competitive nature of players is a key reason they can rebound to perform well again.
"I just think that the great majority of the guys are very, very competitive anyway," said Caldwell. "Oftentimes you'll find where some individuals get demoted and they never come back from it. They sort of sink into misery, complain and don't work through practice and get better. You find the guys that come back and excel are the guys that don't do that. What they do is they concentrate on, 'OK, what do I need to improve on?' They work on those things. Then when they do have that second opportunity, they take advantage of it. That's what I think he has been able to do. I think those guys that are resilient, those guys that are able to certainly work on their weaknesses and be willing to take criticism, and then be able to find a way to improve upon it, are the guys that come back and come back even a little bit stronger, as Jacob has in the last few weeks."
Lacey has 120 game minutes left to play. It is a significant amount of time to get more experience.
"Absolutely it is a lot of time left," said Lacey. "It's two more opportunities to go out, play my best ball and put my best efforts on tape."