Hayden, Powers Form Core of Improving, Young Cornerback Position
INDIANAPOLIS – There were new names, and familiar faces.
But whoever played cornerback for the Colts throughout the 2009 season, Kelvin Hayden – the most-tenured starter on the unit – said this much was true:
The Colts' style of defense changed a bit in 2009.
And that made things a bit more fun.
"As a defensive back, you enjoy this," said Hayden, one of several players who played solidly for the Colts in 2009 at cornerback, which is the subject of this entry in a position-by-position series running this month on Colts.com.
"In the previous years you can say that we were kind of a bend-but-don't-break defense," Hayden said late this past season. "This year, we're attacking and challenging offenses to make plays. It's a challenge on the secondary as well because we need to make plays in order to get off the field on third down.
"The whole defense had to make tackles. We're blitzing more. We're not just going to sit back and let the quarterback pick us apart.
"We're going to dictate and force quarterbacks to make plays."
This past season, it was a mix of experience and youth that played cornerback within that attacking system, a group that played a key role in one of the league's most underrated secondaries.
"Our secondary definitely doesn't get enough credit," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said of the secondary. "We have, in my opinion, the best corps in the league. I honestly don't think there is another group that has better depth . . . a lot of guys that can play real good football.
"You don't hear about it too much. You don't hear about anybody in our secondary."
And Colts President Bill Polian said late in the season that shouldn't have been the case – particularly when it came to rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers.
Powers, a third-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft from Auburn University, proved quickly he was capable of playing in the NFL, earning a starting position in the preseason and holding the spot throughout his rookie season. He started 12 games, including 11 of the first 12, finishing the season with 71 tackles, an interception, nine passes defensed, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
"What can you say about Jerraud Powers?" Polian said late in the season. "No one writes about him. No one talks about him. None of the national pundits and gurus even know his name, but he ought to be the Rookie of the Year.
"There's no rookie corner who has played better than Jerraud Powers and he won't even make the All-Rookie team, I'm sure, because they only go by statistics. He has one interception, but he has played as well as any corner that we have had play here."
Powers, who forewent his senior season, impressed teammates and coaches not only with his ability on the field, but his maturity and approach off of it.
"Obviously you could tell (from) his ability on the field that he would be able to play, but it's his mentality," Colts two-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea said. "Talking to him about football, you can just tell that he is before his time. When you have a player like that who can transfer that stuff off the field onto the field, it makes him that much better."
Hayden, a second-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, started for a third consecutive season, finishing the season with 59 tackles, an interception and five passes defensed. He missed seven games with multiple injuries, but started throughout the post-season and provided a veteran presence during a time when Powers missed time and was replaced by rookie free agent Jacob Lacey at the other corner.
Lacey, who signed with the Colts shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft, played a critical role throughout the season. With Powers missing a total of four games, Hayden missing seven and veteran cornerback Marlin Jackson out the second half of the season with a knee injury, Lacey played a more extensive role than many anticipated before the season, starting nine games with 78 tackles and three on special teams.
Lacey also had three interceptions, one of which he returned for a 35-yard touchdown in a mid-season victory at St. Louis. He was named to the PFW/PFWA and Sing News All-Rookie teams.
Veteran Tim Jennings, a second-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, also played a key role at times at corner this past season. He started five of 15 games, finishing the season with 56 tackles and two interceptions with 10 passes defensed.
The Colts earlier this off-season signed Terrail Lambert, a first-year veteran from Notre Dame. He spent the last half of this past season on the Colts' practice squad.
A year after the Colts' secondary played through several key injuries to allow the fewest touchdown passes in NFL history – six – the unit allowed just 19 in 2009, while intercepting 16 passes. The cornerbacks intercepted eight of the passes, and also had 38 passes defensed for a unit that ranked 14th in the NFL against the pass.
And if the group remained underrated at times, the members of the secondary said where they were rated in the eyes of observers mattered less than the success they had on the field.
"We just want to be good," Bullitt said. "We just want to be the best. We would love to be considered the best group, but a lot of times it doesn't happen. You have a lot of big-name players on other teams but some of them don't make a lot of noise. We come up, we stop the run.
"That's never been a question. Then in the passing game, we have allowed some of the fewest touchdown passes. I don't know what more you can do, but that's just the way it is."
Note: The 2010 Colts.com position-by-position series that will run during March is meant to serve as an overview of the Colts' roster as it stands entering the 2010 off-season and to provide fans a detailed look at how the position groups fared during the 2009 Super Bowl XLIV season. Any analysis included herein does not reflect the opinion of Colts management.