Probably more than any other position, the Indianapolis Colts’ safety group is completely halted by injury questions. Unfortunately, this involves the best players in the group. When healthy, on paper, this is a very impressive unit for the Colts. But, until training camp commences on July 29, everything remains in question.
- Malik Hooker
- Clayton Geathers
- Darius Butler
- Matthias Farley
- T.J. Green
- Tyvis Powell
- Andrew Williamson
- Lee Hightower
- Tyson Graham Jr.
People already love to compare the Colts’ rookie first-rounder to the legendary Ed Reed. However, let’s not forget that Hooker — recovering from offseason shoulder and sports hernia surgeries — was on the shelf all spring. Hooker has taken valuable mental reps in the meeting rooms and by watching his teammates in practice, but until they prove it, rookies aren’t guaranteed success. From studying him, I do feel like Hooker will be a success, but he hasn’t hit the practice field yet. Hooker is projected to be a starter for the Colts, and he is expected to physically return for training camp. So, while he missed the offseason routine, he will be hitting the stage with his teammates finally later this month. His spot is safe considering his head coach is already comparing him to a future Hall-of-Famer.
The biggest question mark at safety is that of Geathers’ future. He had neck surgery in March to repair a bulging disc that hadn’t healed on its own. He has been out since. The Colts are not putting a timetable on his return, so everything is just guessing right now. Geathers’ wellbeing, of course, the chief concern, it also puts the Colts’ starting safety tandem in limbo. Geathers is easily their best option at strong safety. And, though the thought of Geathers and Hooker starting together sounds awesome, who knows when that will materialize?
Until the Colts drafted Hooker, it looked like it would be Butler starting at free safety. Now, it makes the most sense for Butler to move back to the nickel where he’s excelled with the Colts for the last five years. It could still mean that Butler plays some safety, but his versatility, leadership and ballskills almost certainly locks him into a roster spot.
During the Colts’ mandatory two-day minicamp, Farley was seeing first-team reps (likely strong safety) over Green. Green was a second-round pick in 2016 who showed potential but had plenty of growing pains as a rookie. Farley impressed as a rookie in 2016 both in the offseason and training camp with the Arizona Cardinals, and he saw important snaps with the Colts during the regular season. The coaching staff clearly has trust in Farley. With Geathers’ health up in the air, Butler’s needed versatility and Green’s continued development, the Colts need Farley.
As aforementioned, Green may not be as far along as many would hope for. He saw plenty of action in 2016, but it looks like the Colts may be bringing him along slowly this summer. Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said that they’d find a role for Green because of his talent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be playing a bunch. Because the Colts just used a high draft pick on him last year and he was a known project at the time, they’ll likely continue to show patience with him.
Powell was just recently signed by the Colts in June. He was an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. He appeared in eight regular season games with them, primarily on special teams. Powell played with Hooker at Ohio State from 2014-’16, so the two are very familiar with each other. Though they didn’t start at the same time in college, they likely do have some sort of chemistry. Familiarity, at the very least. Powell will essentially be duking it out with Williamson, Hightower and Graham Jr. for one spot, if that. Most realistically, the practice squad could be a good destination.
Williamson’s 2016 season ended before it was able to start, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Colts waived-injured him, and he reverted to their Injured Reserve list. He was getting meaningful snaps in practice before the injury occured. Being a year into the same system certainly helps his chances of performing at a high level come training camp 2017.
Like Williamson, Hightower is a 2016 carry-over. Hightower spent time with the Colts in camp 2016, and he was bounced around from the waiver wire to the practice squad numerous times. He played well in the preseason last year, so we’ll have to see if he can keep the momentum going.
Tyson Graham Jr.
Graham brings the type of versatility and experience that the Colts are shooting for. At South Dakota, he converted from wide receiver to safety, but he also saw action at linebacker. He has great size (6-2, 208) and speed (4.54) as well. Graham is a sleeper for the Colts. He seems to bring the right stuff to the table, and with the Colts’ needs at strong safety, they could really use one of the unknown young players to step forward.
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Jake Arthur is the AFC South Division Manager, Indianapolis Colts Team Manager, Assistant Director of NFL Content and a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. He is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @JakeArthurPFS on Twitter as well as on Facebook. Check out his other work HERE.