WESTFIELD, Ind. – With Julian Blackmon (hamstring) sidelined since the beginning of training camp and Rodney Thomas II (toe) missing Tuesday's practice at Grand Park, second-year safety Nick Cross has had plenty of opportunities to take advantage of over the last few weeks.
Cross, a 2022 third-round draft pick, has played plenty of strong safety in place of Blackmon throughout camp. He shifted over to free safety on Tuesday with Thomas out, and the Colts have also cross-trained (no pun intended) him at slot corner, too.
"We're putting more on his plate, but it's the more you can do," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "And when he goes through walk-thru and starts doing things right, it's trying to find ways – 'All right, he can play all three of them. Is there a position or is there somehow we can find a way to get him on the field?' We're kind of in that beginning stage."
Bradley said Cross is trending in the right direction while handling those assignments, and that the team's trust in him is continuing to grow. At the very least, the Colts will look to Cross as depth behind Blackmon, Thomas and Kenny Moore II; at most, he could continue pushing to get on the field in a larger role.
Cross began the 2022 season as the Colts' starting strong safety but was replaced during Week 2 by veteran Rodney McLeod Jr., who started the final 15 games of the season. Bradley said the switch was more about McLeod's experience than anything Cross wasn't doing – and it's worth noting the strong safety position in Bradley's defense has a hefty load of communication responsibilities.
Now in his second year in the scheme, Cross feels more comfortable not only with his own assignments, but the responsibilities of the other 10 guys on the field.
"Strong safety has a lot on their plate," Cross said. "A lot of communication between the linebackers, safeties, corners, D-line. You're communicating with every level of the defense, and it requires you to know what you're doing, know how to do it. Not only know what you're doing, but know what everybody else is doing as well so that you're able to help everybody else."
News, notes and observations from Tuesday's practice:
- Head coach Shane Steichen said he's still working through the plan for how much Sam Ehlinger, Gardner Minshew and Anthony Richardson will play in Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. The same goes for if any and all other starters will play.
- Minshew rotated up to take first-team reps while Richardson ran with the second team during Tuesday's non-padded practice.
- Minshew had a couple of strikes to wide receivers Alec Pierce and Josh Downs during 11-on-11 work.
- Richardson connected with tight end Nick Eubanks in a backed-up-against-the-goal-line 11-on-11 drill. He later found wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a completion and took off and scrambled on the next play for a chunk gain.
- Cornerback Kevin Toliver II picked off Richardson late in 11-on11 work.
- Ehlinger completed a pretty deep ball to wide receiver Kody Case in a full-team period.
- Cornerback JuJu Brents had a pass break-up during seven-on-seven.
- Defensive end Samson Ebukam (hamstring) returned to practice.