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A Healthy Secondary Can Be Elite

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Antoine Bethea is the veteran leader of an emerging elite secondary corps. Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images.
Antoine Bethea is the veteran leader of an emerging elite secondary corps. Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images.

Notable players: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, LaRon Landry, Antoine Bethea

One-word description: Improvement

In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts suffered from a mediocre pass defense. They ranked 20th in forced interceptions, 21st in passing yards allowed and 22nd in yards allowed per pass attempt and quarterback rating allowed. The secondary wasn’t the worst element of the defense in 2012, but still proved to be in need of major improvement.

Although the 2013 Colts have yet to even partake in a fully-padded practice, it seems almost inevitable that pass coverage will be the team’s most improved aspect from a year ago.

Remember safety Tom Zbikowski and his inability to do anything positive for an NFL defense? He’s gone. Remember having to start cornerback Cassius Vaughn ten times in 2012? That’s not happening anymore.

Instead, the freshly signed LaRon Landry and Greg Toler will suit up for the Colts in place of Zbikowski and Vaughn, and both will make huge impacts.

Toler always showed flashes of top-tier talent while he was in Arizona. In limited snaps last year, he held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 51.5 on balls thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus. Now, he gets his first opportunity to prove he’s got what it takes to be a productive starter in the NFL. All fans should crave players with the combination of talent and hunger Toler possesses.

Landry has already proven what he’s made of. The owner of possibly the most built body in the NFL, Landry makes a living on physicality, whether it be in run support or clobbering receivers across the middle of the field. He’s had some ups and downs throughout his career but has steadied his play the past couple seasons and earned his first Pro Bowl bid in 2012. Landry will provide a much needed physicality that has been lacking since Bob Sanders left not only to the Colts secondary, but to the defense as a whole.

And, of course, the Colts already have two of the better secondary starters in the league – cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Antoine Bethea. Davis battled some injury problems last year but was very productive while on the field. At only 25 years old, he’s on the cusp of becoming a perennial Pro Bowler. Bethea has already become that. The seven-year veteran has been selected to go to Hawaii twice already and is about as consistent of a player you can find.

With Toler and Davis starting at cornerback, Vaughn and Darius Butler will be allowed to remain nickel- and dime-package corners. Vaughn proved he’s not talented enough to be a starter, and going against no. 3 and no. 4 receivers will help hide his deficiencies. Butler thrived as a backup last year, picking off four passes and returning two for touchdowns. He’s not quite ready to be a full-time starter yet, so having his explosiveness off the bench will be huge for the Colts.

The only concern standing in the way of this group reaching its potential is health. Toler and Landry both battled major injuries prior to 2012, and Davis has missed 10 games over the past two years – not a huge number by any means, but still a little worrisome. However, health should be on the Colts’ side in 2013. Toler and Landry have been very cautious with their respective ailments during the offseason, and reports out of minicamp said both looked great in practice. Add in Bethea’s consistency (he hasn’t missed a game since 2007), and everything is looking good health-wise.

On paper, the Colts secondary looks to be much improved in 2013. Although it is indeed only that – on paper – for now, it’s still exciting to think about the potential of this group.