After sparingly seeing defensive snaps through the first 12 weeks of the season, second-year safety Nick Cross has started to see a ramp-up in his playing time over the past couple of weeks. Cross earned it after proving his mettle on special teams, particularly after blocking a punt in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans that led to a special teams touchdown.
However, he had yet to make that same splash play on defense. That all changed this Saturday during the Colts' 30-13 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cross' moment came in the second quarter, when he went stride for stride with Steelers' wide receiver George Pickens deep downfield and came away with an interception, the first of his NFL career.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to get in, you got to make the most of them just like [linebacker] Ronnie Harrison did," head coach Shane Steichen said. "And now Nick Cross gets his opportunity, gets in there and gets a big-time interception. To get those takeaways obviously flips the momentum of the game and it was great to see.
Following Cross' interception, the Colts' defense came away with two more turnovers.
Ignited by Cross' takeaway, safety Julian Blackmon said it caused a big energy shift on the field.
"Momentum is a real thing," Blackmon said. "I don't care what sport you play; I think momentum's huge, splash plays are big and it just makes everybody rise to the level that you're playing that. And it's just good to see him [Cross] make those plays because he's one of those guys that can make something happen as he plays."
Cross is no stranger to interceptions as he had six picks in the three years he spent playing college football for the Maryland Terrapins. In his junior season, he tied for the most interceptions on the team with three.
That big play ability helped to get Cross selected by the Colts in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Though Cross saw significant time as a starter in college, the same could not be said for the start of his NFL career.
Starting MIKE linebacker Zaire Franklin's career got off to a similar start as he too had to make his bones on special teams before earning significant defensive reps.
Admiring Cross' perseverance and adjustment to his role, Franklin said Cross has done everything that the team has asked of him and more.
"Nick has taken it in stride as best as he can," Franklin said. "I know how tough it is to come in as a guy with so many high expectations and for it to be abruptly taken away from you. He's never flinched. He's been putting in the work nonstop, continuously getting better. They asked him to be a special teamer and he was the best special teamer we had. They gave him a handful of snaps and he made the most out of every time he was on the field. And you know, I think today getting that pick and changing that momentum the way he did, it was just a combination of a great story and a lot of hard work."