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Practice Notebook: Colts' trust in Ronnie Harrison Jr. pays off; updates on Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Zack Moss ahead of Week 18 game vs. Texans

The Colts signed Ronnie Harrison Jr. to their practice squad and then 53-man roster with the plan of converting him to linebacker. In Week 17, he moved back to his natural position – safety – to give the Colts a much-needed veteran presence on the back end of their defense. 


The Colts brought in Ronnie Harrison Jr. in the middle of training camp, later converted him from safety to linebacker, watched as he picked off two passes at a new position then moved him back to his natural position for a critical late-season game. 

Harrison started at strong safety in the Colts 23-20 Week 17 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, replacing Julian Blackmon, who was placed on injured reserve last week with a shoulder injury. The Colts were also without veteran slot cornerback Kenny Moore II for Week 17, making the presence of an experienced player like Harrison – it was his 47th career start – even more important. 

"We just felt like in the backend we need a good communicator, a guy that is – he's played in multiple games, played in a division championship, played at Alabama," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "Hey, we're going to put a lot on his plate. We felt like the experience he had at linebacker will help him do some of the things that we were going to do during the game at strong safety so we felt that that part was a good fit." 

Bradley's defense leans on its strong safety for plenty of communication, which is why the Colts value a veteran – like Rodney McLeod Jr. in 2022 and Blackmon in 2022 – in that spot. The Colts decided to go with Harrison in part because of his football IQ and experience, and also because they wanted to keep Nick Cross at free safety, where he had begun to carve out a role over the last few weeks. 

Against a Raiders passing attack built on deep shots, consistency and communication were key. 

"The number of reps Nick has had at free safety compared to strong safety – we just felt like that was a better move to have him back there and I thought he handled it well," Bradley said. "He communicated well for that position, what we ask of the free safety and Ronnie did as well. It wasn't perfectly clean, there were some guys running free at times. But I think as a whole, they did a nice job that whole backend for putting it together in one week."

Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell attempted six passes that traveled more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and completed two for 44 yards. 

The Colts will need the same success in their secondary this weekend against the Houston Texans, who feature one of the NFL's best deep ball throwers in quarterback C.J. Stroud. Only the Miami Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for more yards on passes of 20+ air yards than Stroud (1,083), and no quarterback has done a better job not putting the ball in harm's way on those deep balls than Stroud, whose 1.7 turnover-worthy play percentage on those throws is the lowest in the NFL. 

And if the Colts tap Harrison to play safety again on Saturday, they'll do so with plenty of confidence he can help keep a lid on the Texans' potent passing offense. 

"Ronnie's a baller. He played at a high level at Alabama in the SEC and it carried over to his NFL career," linebacker EJ Speed said. "Even when he was in Jacksonville and Cleveland, he contributed to whatever they had going. I feel like Ronnie is a great guy to have around, a great veteran presence. You can talk to him, he understands the game, it's fun to play with him."

Thursday's practice report

The Colts conducted a walk-through on Wednesday and a practice Thursday. Center Ryan Kelly (ankle) did not participate Wednesday or Thursday, while left guard Quenton Nelson (ankle) went from DNP Wednesday to limited on Thursday. Running back Zack Moss, who hasn't played since sustaining a forearm injury in Week 15, was also listed as a full participant Thursday. Cornerback Kenny Moore II (back) was also listed as a full participant on Thursday – he was limited on Wednesday and did not play Sunday against the Raiders.

View the top photos as the Colts practice at the indoor field at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Wednesday preparing to face the Houston Texans.

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