Colts' young secondary learning from veterans
ANDERSON, Ind. (AP)
The second-year cornerbacks have figured out what it takes to win in the NFL, experienced the thrill of playing in a Super Bowl and understand why short-term memories are essential to their success.
Now they're working toward a larger goal - perfection.
''There's definitely a more comfortable feeling now because you feel like you know more about the defense,'' Lacey said after Friday morning's training camp workout. ''We pretty much know the basics, it's a matter of cleaning things up.''
The trio has only five years of combined NFL experience, yet accounted for 33 starts in 2009. All three could play bigger roles for the defending AFC champs in 2009.
There's plenty of room for improvement, too.
In 2008, the Colts set an NFL record for fewest passing TDs allowed in a 16-game season (six). In 2009, the Colts started their then rookie cornerbacks six times and opponents took advantage. They threw for 19 touchdowns and Drew Brees methodically picked apart the Colts' depleted secondary in the Saints' Super Bowl comeback.
Clearly, Lacey and Powers weren't the only reason teams were more effective throwing against the Colts last season. Projected starting cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden struggled with injuries and safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, played in only two games before sustaining a season-ending biceps injury.
But quarterbacks like throwing at young guys and the Colts have an abundance of them.
When Indy reported to camp last week, only two players in the secondary - Sanders (45) and Hayden (35) - had more than 22 career starts. So Indy signed free agent Deshea Townsend, a 12-year veteran and former Super Bowl starter with Pittsburgh, to lend a helping hand.
Beyond the top six, only two other players have even played in an NFL game. Safety Jamie Silva has made 25 career appearances, primarily on special teams, and recently signed defensive back Marcus McCauley played in one game with Detroit last season.
So the valued vets have now become mentors.
''Those guys set a great example about how to prepare, how to eat each day and how to take care of their bodies,'' coach Jim Caldwell said. ''They're doing a good job.''
The advice seems to be paying off, too.
Bullitt, who spent much of last season playing with a heavy brace on his arm, hasn't used that at all during camp. Lacey and Powers appear to be reacting more quickly to plays, an indication they are more confident in Year 2.
And even they acknowledge it has been different this time around.
''It's just knowing the players,'' Powers said. ''I'm happy I can come here and relax, knowing the ins and outs of it and work on becoming a better football player. I remember getting on the field the first time and going up against Torry Holt and thinking 'This is the same guy I've been watching all the time.'''
Powers, a third-round pick from Auburn, proved last season he can match up with just about anybody. Holt caught only six passes for 85 yards in two games against the Colts.
Even when Randy Moss and Wes Welker took advantage of the rookies, combining for a combined 18 receptions and 273 yards against the Colts in November, it was Indy's young guns who made the big difference.
Powers broke up a short third-down pass to Welker that could have sealed the game. On the next play, Bullitt stopped Kevin Faulk 1-yard short on a fourth-down attempt, setting up the Colts' improbable 35-34 come-from-behind win.
Those players have given players, such as Powers and Lacey, a glimpse of what they're capable of doing if they keep studying the game.
''On paper, it is a young group but it doesn't really feel like it because I think everybody is comfortable in their own skin,'' Lacey said. ''The older guys all bring their own stories and that's something you can relate to. They tell you what to look for, what's going to be run, how to play the game and all of that helps you learn how to be better.''