THE CORNERBACKS

In the 10th of a series, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy analyzes the team's cornerback position.

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Tenth of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster

INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Dungy said it's easy to focus on what the Colts' cornerbacks are not.

They're not necessarily prototypes.

They're not necessarily pure "cover" corners.

And they may not be as fast as some of their peers.

But Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said it's far more imant to focus on what Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are, what they have become and what they still have the potential to be.

Because the Colts' two starting cornerbacks are physical.

They are good.

And Dungy said most importantly, they are showing signs of continuing to get better.

"They're not prototypical corners," Dungy said in an interview with Colts.com for this story on the team's cornerbacks, the 10th of a position-by-position series that will conclude this month.

"We're not a prototypical defense, but I think they had as much impact on the run game as any defensive lineman or linebacker in the league because of the way we play. Those guys did a good job of solidifying that.

"They were very physical. They played hard and to be first-year starters, they played with a lot of poise."

Dungy's words are supported by statistics from the past two seasons. In 2006, the Colts' defense ranked 32nd in the NFL against the run, and 21st overall, allowing 173 yards per game rushing.

Last season, with Jackson and Hayden starting together for the first time, the Colts ranked 15th in the NFL against the run, allowing 106.9 yards per game. They also finished the season ranked third in the NFL overall in total defense, the franchise's highest ranking in that area since 1971.

Jackson, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, played extensively his first two seasons, starting eight games at safety in 2006. He also played a key role as a nickelback. Last season, he started 16 games at cornerback, intercepting a pass and finishing the season with 112 tackles, a number that placed him third on the team.

He also defensed five passes, fourth on the team.

"Marlin plays with a lot more go-out-and-play energy, flying around," Dungy said. "They're both physical guys, but the best thing they do is play with instincts and passion and use their physicalness. "Again, our style of play kind of lets them do that. They're both great fits for this system."

Hayden, the Colts' second-round selection in 2005, played mostly on special teams as a rookie, then saw action in passing situations in 2006. He started 16 games at cornerback last season, intercepting three passes and finishing the season with 117 tackles, third on the team.

He also defensed a team-high 12 passes.

"He's probably a little faster than Marlin and has very good ball skills, those ex-receiver skills," Dungy said. "He's really still kind of learning the game defensively. He wants to be perfect. He wants to do it exactly the way (Colts secondary coach) Alan (Williams) wants it."

Hayden moved to corner from wide receiver shortly before his senior season at Illinois. The more corner he plays, Dungy said, the better he should become.

"He's going to continue to improve and he still has those plays where he is in position and not quite able to make the play, because it's still the first time he has been in that position," Dungy said. "That will continue to develop. He might have been our most improved player (last season). He definitely was two years ago. He might have been this (past) year and he might be our most improved player again this year.

"I think he's going to be like (Colts two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne) where he's just going to improve every year for six or seven years."

Tim Jennings, a second-round selection in 2006, started four of 11 games at nickelback in 2007, defensing seven passes and registering 25 tackles, and Dante Hughes - a third-round selection in 2007 – played in 10 games before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

"Dante Hughes is a lot like those guys (Hayden and Jackson)," Dungy said "He will make the second-year jump. He was playing well when he got hurt. Tim Jennings just got that confidence of playing. For him, it's going to be staying healthy and being able to maintain that improvement by continuing to practice and continuing to play.

"Those four guys, I think are going to be good players for us."

T.J. Rushing, a seventh-round selection in 2006, played 14 games last season, returning punts and kicks and also playing extensively at times as a reserve corner. He registered 24 tackles, 16 solos, and also had a pass breakup.

"When we drafted him, we thought he was mainly a return man," Dungy said. "He played down the stretch for us and made big plays. He's a smart guy and has great quickness and ball skills."

Michael Coe, a fifth-round selection in 2007, played six games, registering seven tackles and a pass defensed. He also recovered a fumble.

"It's definitely the most corners we've had since I've been here that have the ability to play and win for you," Dungy said.

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