INDIANAPOLIS –Twenty-three games. That is how long Kevin Thomas had to wait to finally make his NFL debut.
After a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season and battling to gain playing time through the early part of this year, Thomas has started the past two weeks at left cornerback.
The Colts' 2010 third-round draft pick has had 16 tackles over his first two starts and said the most important part of being on the field is the ability now to analyze himself on film.
"I think it's very important for me getting my strengths and weaknesses on film so I can watch those and correct them," Thomas said. "There is nothing like live action. You practice, but live action is different. When you get that on film, you can definitely critique your game a lot more."
The Colts' secondary has seen five different players make their NFL career debuts in 2011. Thomas is just the latest, and he was preceded by David Caldwell, Terrence Johnson, Joe Lefeged and Chris Rucker.
Starting opposite Thomas has been third-year cornerback Jerraud Powers. As one of the veterans in the secondary, Powers has seen some growth in the play of Thomas in the past two weeks.
"I just see KT (Thomas) who played for the first time versus the Saints and watched the film where he played yesterday's game and you just see a huge improvement," Powers said. "I think guys will continue to get better as they get more playing experience."
Of Thomas' 16 tackles in two games, 11 of those have been solo stops. Head Coach Jim Caldwell commented on the play of Thomas on Monday afternoon.
"He played a lot the last ball game (New Orleans game) and certainly a lot this (last) game (in Tennessee). I think he's shown promise, but he's got to continue to get better as well," Caldwell said.
For the past two seasons, Thomas has learned under the tutelage of Powers and fellow defensive back Antoine Bethea.
"They just pretty much correct me when I'm wrong and help me grow mentally as a player and help me fix the things I need to work on," Thomas said. "They are good examples to look at and watch and see how they play. I can take the strengths in their games and add it into mine."
Powers has seen a different Thomas away from the field, too. The physical tools always were there, but now Thomas is starting to understand what it takes to make a long career in the NFL.
"He went from a guy that just didn't get it quite there as far as all the things that it takes mentally," Powers said. "I know from week-to-week he's coming and asking a bunch of questions, 'What I think about this, what I think about that?' Watch film with me."
Back in 2009, Powers started his first-ever NFL game and has been a constant in the secondary in each of the past three seasons. The game experience was invaluable in his growth pattern.
"My rookie year, I was fortunate enough to be an opening-day starter," said Powers. "The more playing time I got early as a rookie, by the time we got to the end of the year I felt like a seasoned vet. So for these guys to come in and be able to play at an early stage, even though we are going through some rough times right now, they're gaining experience and learning.
"You've got to play. NFL is not like college where you can come in and red-shirt, especially not here. They don't do that. They expect the young guys to come in and play, and play early."
Another player in the Colts defense who has benefited from reps early in his NFL career is linebacker Pat Angerer. His 89 tackles lead the league and the second-year pro has played in all 24 of his NFL games, 19 as a starter.
"You are able to get reps in the games," Angerer said. "You are able to get more comfortable, especially it helps when you are wanting to show a coverage. Just feeling more comfortable is the main thing."
The ability to have game reps was the constant theme in describing the Colts secondary, and Caldwell echoed the same sentiments.
"There are a number of young guys that are playing out there for us that the only thing that is going to help them get a little bit better is experience and experience in ball games," Caldwell said. "Certainly practice is meaningful and gets them ready to perform, but there is nothing like game experience. Reps are extremely important."