Skip to content

Blackmon enters camp as a breakout candidate

July 21—INDIANAPOLIS — Julian Blackmon was feeling more confident and comfortable in Gus Bradley’s defense this spring.

That’s very good news for the Indianapolis Colts, who need the 24-year-old safety to take a step forward on and off the field.

The competition at safety does not appear to be nearly as wide open as cornerback with training camp approaching next week at Westfield’s Grand Park Sports Campus.

But the loss of veteran Rodney McLeod to the Cleveland Browns left a significant leadership void at the top of the depth chart.

The soft-spoken, immensely talented and injury haunted Blackmon seems uniquely poised to fill that role.

On the field, Blackmon could be in store for a breakout season after making the move from free to strong safety. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage, Blackmon can better take advantage of his physicality and run-stopping skills.

After filling in as a slot cornerback for the final month of last season, Blackmon has also forged a tight bond with veteran cornerback Kenny Moore II.

The pair believe they will play well as a tandem, with Blackmon now enjoying a deeper understanding of how Moore sees the game after literally walking in his shoes.

They’ll also be heavily leaned upon to provide leadership for a very young defensive secondary. Moore’s preferred style is to lead by example, so it could be up to Blackmon to provide the vocal component in the locker room.

It’s a role for which he appears to be well suited. Thoughtful and often illuminating with the media, Blackmon is well respected by his teammates for his work ethic and ability to hold others accountable.

The key could be staying healthy. Blackmon missed the final 11 games of the 2021 season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon during practice, and he sat out six games last year with an ankle injury.

Those injuries have limited Blackmon to just 31 starts over his first three NFL seasons.

Rodney Thomas took advantage of Blackmon’s absence last season to claim the starting free safety spot as his own.

An undrafted rookie out of Yale, Thomas led the Colts with four interceptions and added 52 tackles and six pass break-ups while making 10 starts.

He’ll be leaned upon to continue his takeaway trend as a full-time starter in Year 2.

Nick Cross was expected to be the breakout rookie a year ago, but he could never rediscover the groove he found early in training camp and the preseason.

While Thomas soared, Cross lost his starting job to McLeod after just two weeks and played just 122 defensive snaps before being a healthy addition to the inactive list in Week 18.

He’ll enter training camp as the primary backup at both safety spots as he works to get his young career back on track.

Trevor Denbow made just two appearances as an undrafted rookie last year but is highly regarded as a special teams contributor who could also compete for snaps on defense.

Fifth-round pick Daniel Scott was expected to be in the mix as a special teams contributor and reserve safety, but a torn ACL this spring ended his season before it started.

Marcel Dabo is back in the mix for the second season as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. A star in his native Germany, the 23-year-old did not make a regular-season appearance last year as he adjusted to the American game.

Henry Black will also look to make a name for himself during the preseason. The 26-year-old made 25 appearances over the past two seasons with the Green Bay Packers, playing 427 snaps on special teams and 289 snaps on defense.

The vast majority of the defensive snaps (262) came last season, and Black finished with 38 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and two pass break-ups.

Undrafted rookies Aaron Maddox of Campbell and Michael Tutsie of North Dakota State fill out the preseason depth chart at safety.