Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Cornerback Position
INDIANAPOLIS – There is, Jim Caldwell said, a commonality at cornerback for the Colts.
Not that Jerraud Powers plays exactly like Kelvin Hayden.
But Caldwell – in his second season as the Colts' head coach – said Powers, selected as a third-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft from Auburn University, has more than a few traits in common with Hayden, a second-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft from the University of Illinois.
Each is a starting cornerback.
Each has emerged as a critical member of the Colts' defense.
Each, Caldwell said, is mature beyond his years.
And together, Caldwell said they have developed into a solid tandem that makes the Colts feel very good about the position heading into 2010.
"They're extremely both professional," Caldwell said of the duo in an interview for this story on the Colts' cornerbacks, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
But Caldwell said there is more.
"They're also very diligent in their approach to the game," Caldwell said. "They're very practical in that sense. They work extremely hard. They learn quickly. They're highly competitive. They're tough people."
Those are their off-field attributes, but Caldwell said the duo is more than a pair of hard workers. Each is a player with not only a knack for playing the position, but the mindset to do so effectively at the professional level.
"They're like riverboat gamblers," Caldwell said. "They play aggressively and they have a short memory. It's something that's imant to have playing that position."
Powers, who impressed Colts coaches and personnel officials quickly last off-season, proved just as quickly he was capable of playing in the NFL. He earned a starting position in the pre-season and held the spot throughout his rookie season, starting 12 games, finishing the season with 71 tackles, an interception, nine passes defensed, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
Late in the season, Colts President Bill Polian said he deserved consideration for Rookie of the Year honors: "There's no rookie corner who has played better."
Caldwell said Powers quickly showed a maturity that translated onto the field.
"He was able to come in and play well," Caldwell said. "He was able to come in and be extremely effective. He never acted as if the game was too big for him. He made a lot of plays for us. I think that was because his maturity and how he approached the game. He loved to compete.
"He's a very, very competitive guy. He's very smart."
So mature was Powers that his fellow members of the Colts' secondary jokingly called him, "The old man."
"You can see why he acquired that nickname," Caldwell said. "He showed an unusual amount of maturity for a guy his age."
Hayden, who played a major special teams role in his first two seasons, 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 on the other corner.
Hayden has missed time with injuries each of the past two seasons, and said recently he believes he has room to improve if he can remain injury-free. Caldwell said he agreed.
"He looks really good right now from a physical standpoint," Caldwell said during OTAs. "He's moving well. He's got his zip and bounce back. He's excited about his prospects for this year."
Lacey, who played collegiately at Oklahoma State, signed with the Colts shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft, then played a critical role throughout the season. With Powers missing a total of four games, Hayden out for much of the season 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.
He 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 Sporting News All-Rookie teams.
"He had an opportunity to play quite a bit last year, and we anticipate that he's going to be a big part of our unit on the corner," Caldwell said of Lacey.
After not re-signing Jackson, T.J. Rushing or Tim Jennings in the off-season, the Colts in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft selected cornerback Kevin Thomas from the University of Southern California.
He sustained what the team announced could be a season-ending knee injury during the team's 2010 rookie camp in early May, and Caldwell said 2010 seventh-round draft selection Ray Fisher, 2010 free-agent signee Brandon King, 2010 rookie free agent Jordan Hemby and first-year veteran Terrail Lambert could make an impact.
"We have a few young guys that we're working with," Caldwell said. "We're working with Lambert, Fisher and Hemby – that particular group, trying to get them developed. But with Lacey, Hayden and Powers, those are guys who give us a pretty good rotation. I think they're going to be quite effective."
And Caldwell cornerback is a position where the Colts have had relatively unknown players make an impact quickly. Not only did Lacey and Powers play key roles last season as rookies, Jason David started as a fourth-round selection in 2004.
"It's been done," Caldwell said. "I'd attribute that to guys being brought in to fit what we do. It's not a stretch when we ask them to do the things acquired of them physically to handle the position. No. 2, I think the players are smart guys who are talented people and they adapt and adjust quickly and get up to speed quickly so they can play for us and have an impact on our defense.
"The coaches do a good job, I think, of teaching. You go out and see (Special Assistant to the Defense) Rod Perry teaching and walking through certain situations and meeting with guys. You see (Defensive Backs Coach) Alan Williams going over all the nuances of that position and making sure they have a real fine understanding of things.
"(Defensive coordinator) Larry (Coyer) puts them in a great position from a scheme standpoint where they can do the things they need to do to be successful. We feel good about it."