Ninth of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell likes what he sees from the Colts' cornerback situation.
While he liked it even before he took his new position in mid-January, the events of late February made him feel even better about the short- and long-term future of the position.
Caldwell, entering his first season as the Colts' head coach, said the Colts are in solid shape at corner, a position that features a mix of young veterans who have varied levels of experience. And Caldwell said corner was significantly bolstered just before the start of free agency.
That was when the team signed veteran Kelvin Hayden to a long-term deal.
"We certainly feel good about it (corner), because Kelvin obviously is playing extremely well," Caldwell said recently during an interview for this story on the team's cornerback position, part of a position-by-position story running on Colts.com this month.
"We certainly were glad we were able to get things settled with him in terms of his contract. He sets a great tone for us."
Hayden, a second-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft from the University of Illinois, moved into the starting lineup in 2007, and along with 2005 first-round selection Marlin Jackson has formed the Colts' starting cornerback tandem entering each of the last two seasons.
The duo formed one of the NFL's top young cornerback tandems in 2007.
But it was a duo last season that sustained significant injuries.
Hayden, after starting all 16 games in 2007, started the first four games last season before missing six games with a knee and hamstring injury. He then returned to start the final six games of the regular season.
Jackson, who played collegiately at the University of Michigan, also moved into the starting lineup in 2007. Like Hayden, he started 16 games that season, and like Hayden, he began 2008 playing solidly in one of the NFL's top young secondaries.
But in late October, Jackson sustained a knee injury in practice and missed the last nine games of the season.
"He's on pace and doing well," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said while it's uncertain exactly when Jackson will return in the coming months, "We do anticipate him returning."
"He was obviously having a stellar year before his injury," Caldwell said.
Jackson, who played nickel back as a rookie and safety in his second season, finished last season with 57 tackles and a pass defensed while Hayden – predominately a special teams player his first two seasons – had 62 tackles this past season with three interceptions and 12 passes defensed. He also intercepted three passes the previous season with 12 passes defensed.
Hayden also returned an interception for a touchdown in a late-season victory over Cincinnati.
The Hayden re-signing, Caldwell said, was imant for several reasons. Not only has Hayden been one of the franchise's core defensive players the past two seasons, he is young despite entering his fifth professional season and Caldwell said he likely will improve significantly.
"He's 26 years old, so he's at that prime age, obviously," Caldwell said of Hayden. "He's just kind of hitting his stride. He's a guy who really is progressing and growing day by day. In college, he played wide receiver, so we see him just kind of continuing to get better.
"He's a guy who just seems to always be in the right place at the right time. He has that knack."
With Hayden and Jackson out significant stretches with injuries, the Colts depended on depth last season far more than in previous seasons, a situation that moved Tim Jennings into the starting lineup much of the season.
Jennings, a 2006 second-round selection from the University of Georgia, started the final 12 games of the season, and had a key interception that led the game-winning touchdown in a come-from-behind victory at Pittsburgh. He finished the season with 74 tackles, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"Tim Jennings came along and played well last year," Caldwell said. "We feel that position is one where we have a good nucleus of guys. It's something where we'll have to work to make sure we have the kind of depth we need in a 16-game season in the regular season, but it's a quality group."
Jennings, along with veteran corner Keiwan Ratliff, helped the Colts' secondary continue to be one of the most effective units in the league. Despite the injuries, the Colts finished sixth in the NFL in passing yards and set an NFL record for fewest touchdown passes allowed with six.
Ratliff has not been re-signed.
Dante Hughes, a third-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft from California, played 14 games as a reserve and special teams player last season, while 2007 draftee Michael Coe (fifth round) and 2006 draftee T.J. Rushing (sixth round) each missed the season after sustaining preseason knee injuries.
Nick Graham, who signed to the active roster on October 22, played four games on special teams before being placed on injured reserve in November, and the Colts recently re-signed Brandon Foster – a practice-squad player except for two games in which he was on the active roster – to the roster as a free agent.
The team also in January signed Brandon Sumrall to the active roster. He spent time on the practice squads of the Colts and Tampa Bay last season.