Position Battle: Defensive Backs

Bob Sanders watched minicamp from the sidelines as he recovered from offseason surgery. While his roster spot is not up for grabs, a number of talented second-year players that were injured in 2007 are returning strong and the Colts brought in some young talent after this year's draft. How does everything stack up? Brad Keller has the analysis here.

As with most of the units on the Colts, the starting four in the secondary are very established at this point, with the starting safety position waiting for Bob Sanders when he returns and Antoine Bethea, who, as Ed Thompson recently wrote, is coming out out Sanders' shadow after being named to the Pro Bowl after the 2007 season.

Although Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson are far from superstars, they have certainly embraced their respective roles in the Cover 2 system that Indianapolis deploys and have definitely cemented themselves in their starting positions.

However, in a division such as the AFC South, which features a number of talented receivers and no shortage of teams that like to run formations that use three and four wide-outs, you can never have too many capable defensive backs.

Without a doubt, the Colts certainly are bringing in a number of bodies to compete for the roster spots behind the starting four.  The only question is whether or not they are capable enough to fill in if Hayden or Jackson gets hurt, as well as working in sub packages when the opposition is in an obvious passing situation.

Though Tim Jennings certainly looked lost at times and seemed overwhelmed in the Divisional Round against the Chargers, his body of work in 2007, especially on special teams, should give Colts fans hope for the future.

Matt Giordano played well when asked to step in for Bethea, is an ace in the kicking game, and was important enough to the Colts for them to sign him to a one-year contract extension in the offseason.


T.J. Rushing was the Colts' return specialist in 2007
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

T.J. Rushing, who was thought of primarily as only a kick and punt returner when drafted in 2006, proved that he could also play cornerback pretty well when given the opportunity, but is hardly the future, and could be on the outside looking in should one of the undrafted free agent wide receivers Indianapolis signed pan out in the return game. Keiwan Ratliff was added to the roster late in the season.

Free safety Melvin Bullitt proved to be a pretty good rookie free-agent find, whereas cornerbacks Dante Hughes and Michael Coe and safety Brandon Condren, all 2007 draft picks, saw limited work due to injuries. Cornerback Antonio Smith was an undrafted free agent who missed the year with a foot injury.

On top of all the names that are currently in the hat in for reserve positions in the secondary, Indianapolis also signed undrafted free agent safety Jamie Silva of Boston College and cornerback Brandon Foster of Texas.

Silva enjoyed a productive career in college, but was done in by lackluster 40 times and Foster is generally considered too small to play the position at 5 feet, 9 inches.

But both men were very successful at the collegiate level against the highest level of competition and should be properly motivated to make the roster after being passed over in this year's draft.  Both also have exceptional special teams potential and could very well follow in the footsteps of Giordano, playing a valuable role in the kicking game and replacing a starter when necessary.

Even though the Colts have, historically, set aside 10 or 11 roster spots for the secondary, that's still 15 very talented players vying for less than 15 openings.

The starters take away four of those slots and Giordano, Jennings, and Rushing probably snag three more.  That leaves eight men fighting for three or four jobs. 

The smart money is on at least one of the free agents from this year's draft class making the roster.  With their skill, determination, and experience on special teams — both Silva and Foster were active in these areas in college and Foster projects as an exceptional gunner at the NFL level — one of them should be able to beat out the collection of 2007 also-rans that were mostly injured or underwhelming last season.

In this particular situation, when given a choice between the devil they know and the devil they don't, most teams will generally go with the devil they don't know, especially since those devils are younger and have shorter injury histories.

Regardless, it's going to be a very interesting and spirited competition that bears watching over the course of the summer.  The Colts have a great deal of quality depth in the secondary and this offseason will give them the chance to prove it.


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