INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon spoke to the media today via video conference. What did he have to say about his history with Xavier Rhodes, and why he's excited he's in Indy, the goal of better communication in the secondary in 2020 and more?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» After coaching Xavier Rhodes for four years with the Minnesota Vikings, Gannon is excited about what Rhodes can do now that he's with the Colts: Gannon was an assistant defensive backs/quality control coach with the Vikings from 2014-17. During that period, Rhodes developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the league; he earned back-to-back Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017, and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in Gannon's final year on Minnesota's staff.
Despite being selected to his third Pro Bowl last season, however, Rhodes was released by the Vikings earlier this offseason. The Colts — now with Gannon on their staff, as well as safeties coach Alan Williams, who was Rhodes' defensive coordinator with the Vikings his rookie year in 2013 — moved quickly to sign the veteran cornerback.
Gannon explained exactly why today.
"What you're getting in Xavier is an ultra competitive guy," Gannon said. "He's very prideful. All our guys are, but this guy's wired a little different."
While Rhodes has admitted to some inconsistencies in his play the last couple of seasons, he's been excited about the prospect of working with the likes of Gannon, who knows exactly what it will take to get him back to his All-Pro form.
Part of that process, Gannon said today, will include an overall simplification from what Rhodes was asked to do during his time with the Vikings.
"That defense, to your point, is a little more man-conscious, but that defense has a lot of rules in it, too," Gannon said. "I think coming to our scheme, we try to eliminate some of those rules for him so he can play fast. … So I think he'll enjoy that part."
» Communication will be key in the Colts' secondary this season: The Colts' secondary certainly had some terrific performances as a whole last season, but the final few games were marred by too many instances in which a receiver inexplicably broke wide open over the top for big plays.
While each one of those plays can be studied and nitpicked, Gannon said the overall issue was a lack of proper communication — something that has been, and will continue to be, a huge emphasis heading into the 2020 season.
"You know, when we had some new guys in there playing, the communication — everyone's speaking Spanish for six weeks, and then all of a sudden a couple guys are speaking French," Gannon said. "And what I mean by that is everyone has to be on the same page in the back end — not just the corner, nickel and the safeties, but the linebackers as well. So everyone needs to be on the same page. Everyone has to know what each guy's doing within that call."
Gannon said the defensive coaching staff as a whole decided to simplify the way in which they are making calls this season.
"We took out some communication," he said. "I think we all have improved as far as, 'OK, what do we need to say? What do we want him to say?' And then they all have to know those calls and be able to function."
» It'll be crucial to keep all players at the cornerback position ready this year: Gannon wasn't quite ready to commit to an answer today when asked whether the team's top three cornerbacks heading into camp will be Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin and Rhodes. There are a couple reasons for that: fully-padded practices are yet to begin, so lots can happen at the position over the next few weeks, but Gannon also has to take into account the unprecedented circumstances everybody is facing dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it's critical for every player on the roster, no matter if they're a starter or a backup, or even on the practice squad, to be ready to go at a moment's notice. Case in point: second-year cornerback Marvell Tell III, who was in line to compete for a starting job, recently decided to opt out for the 2020 season. That gives Gannon and the rest of the coaching staff time to figure out how to make up for his absence, but if a player suddenly tests positive for COVID-19 during the season and has to miss time, it'll be on the next man up to step in and play without missing a beat.
The good news for Gannon is other than 2020 sixth-round pick Isaiah Rodgers, he mostly has a good mix of veteran talent with at least one season of experience under its belt; the offseason additions of guys like Rhodes and T.J. Carrie can only help in this regard.
"Now they're, you could say, a little more battle tested," Gannon said. "You can practice it and walk through it and show it on tape, but until they actually make the mistake full speed in the game, I think that's the best learning for those guys.
"Those guys a year, two, three years, on the job, start to gel a little better," Gannon continued. "And now I think some things that they'll see this year that they're not completely prepped for, they've already seen it and they'll go to that memory bank and be like, 'OK, this is what I do,' or, 'This is how I play that.' So anytime you gain experience you should gain a little bit of wisdom, too, and by that I mean not making the same mistake twice."