The Indianapolis Colts can count on Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis to lock down an opponents’ No. 1 wide receiver.
But on the other side, injuries have forced the Colts to turn to their fifth cornerback, Jalil Brown, for Monday night’s visit from the New York Jets.
The fifth-year pro has played in 40 NFL games, but this will be just his third NFL start.
Brown, 27, wasn’t even assured a roster spot at the outset of training camp, where he led defensive backs with five interceptions.
The Colts, however, have been losing bodies in the secondary at an alarming rate. Starting cornerback Greg Toler has yet to play this season due to a neck injury. First-game starter Darius Butler, who gave up a 51-yard touchdown pass in the opener, is out with a hip injury. Rookie D'Joun Smith, a third-round draft pick, underwent knee surgery Friday and was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return.
Brown said Saturday he’s trying not to get caught up in the hype of starting on Monday Night Football.
“You’ve got to try and stay away from that,” he said. “You’ve got to treat it like a game, because if I try and go in there thinking that, ‘Hey, this is Monday Night Football,’ and it is this and that, I might play out of my element and do something I never would do. So we’re going to try to focus on and prepare for it like it’s a regular game and go out there and try to make some plays.”
He started his career with Kansas City, where he started two games and played in 29 games in two seasons, but has bounced around since then. He played five games as a Colts reserve in 2013, then spent time in Miami without any playing time before returning to the Colts and playing in five games as a reserve last season.
The Colts, trying to bounce back from a 27-14 opening loss at Buffalo, face a Jets team with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Davis likely draws Marshall because the cover guy proved in the opener he can move around to guard the opponent’s best option. Davis covered the Bills’ Sammy Watkins, who didn’t have a reception.
Brown has made 40 tackles in NFL games and doesn’t have an interception. How he handles his assignment will be key. The Jets are sure to pick on him, especially considering how Davis is playing.
“We’ve got to play together, play off of each other, know what your assignment is and how you can use your help around you,” he said. “We learned that we’ve got to be able to tackle because obviously that first game of the season is always a little tough because you haven’t done as much tackling as you will as you get through the season. Those were the main things we learned as a defense.”
Should something happen to Brown, the next cornerback in line is Sheldon Price, a first-year pro who spent his rookie season on the practice squad and made his NFL debut as a reserve last week. After Price, there’s undrafted rookie Eric Patterson, who was added to the roster this week.
Head coach Chuck Pagano didn’t hesitate to respond with a familiar mantra when asked about pressing reserves into the lineup.
“Man up. Next man up,” the coach said. “That’s what we tell them all, to prepare like starters so when this moment happens. It’s a great opportunity. There are a lot of guys that get found having opportunities like this.
“That’s why we tell them all the time, you better prepare like a starter because you never know. You can sit there and all of a sudden something happens, they look over and say, ‘You’re the next guy in the game.’ That guy looks at you like this (wide eyes). They’re going to play, and they’re going to play well. They have to.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.