January 30, 2010
If there's one thing that Indianapolis Colts team president Bill Polian and New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis have in common, it's the ability -- far above the norm -- to find NFL-level talent late in the draft and among undrafted free agents. Polian was able to do this once again in the 2009 preseason, and it has reshaped his team's secondary. Junior cornerback Jerraud Powers(notes) of Auburn was rated by some as among the most underrated defenders in the 2009 draft class. Slightly undersized at 5-9 and 188 pounds out of school, Powers caught the attention of the Colts, who covet smart, undersized defenders with specific skill sets because they know how to fit such players in their defensive scheme. Polian took Powers in the third round and got a starting cornerback pretty much right away -- not a bad deal.
Replacing the injured Marlin Jackson(notes), Powers became the first Indy corner to start his first game with the team since Ashley Ambrose in 1992. He broke up two passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in that opener. By November, head coach Jim Caldwell was praising Powers' maturity and ability to pick up the defense. He finished his rookie campaign with 66 tackles, and interception and 10 passes defensed despite missing the final three games of the regular season with a hamstring injury. He picked off another pass in the divisional round win over the Baltimore Ravens, but missed the AFC Championship game against the Jets with a foot injury. According to Polian, the Colts are monitoring Powers' progress, and they've brought Mike McKenzie(notes) and Jason David(notes) in for tryouts just in case.
If Powers can't go against Sean Payton's combustible New Orleans passing attack, undrafted rookie Jacob Lacey(notes) would like start in his place. Another undersized, unheralded defender (you'll see these two words a lot when talking about the Colts' defense), Lacey was signed out of Oklahoma State and kept the pass defense solid after Kelvin Hayden(notes) was hurt early on. A high school teammate of Colts safety Melvin Bullitt(notes), Lacey first impressed from a highlight sense with an interception return for a touchdown against Marc Bulger(notes) in Week 7. But before the bye week, he'd logged three passes defenses against the Titans and one each against the Cardinals and Seahawks. Lacey got beat on the 80-yard touchdown from Mark Sanchez(notes) to Braylon Edwards(notes) in the AFC Championship game, but he recovered to lock things down pretty well after that. He finished his rookie regular season with 85 tackles, three picks, and 13 passes defensed.
The Colts can't fool themselves -- when they hit the field to face the Saints on Super Sunday, they'll be facing more routes and formations than they even see from their own offense in practice. But Powers and Lacey have been key ingredients in the Colts' defensive rebirth, and primary reasons for Indy's second Super Bowl berth in four years.
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