The Indianapolis Colts learned last year just how much they needed better depth at cornerback, particularly at the nickel spot. So this offseason, they utilized free agency to bring in veteran T.J. Carrie, who has plenty of experience playing both outside and inside.
INDIANAPOLIS - Injuries are simply part of the game of football, and when one guy goes down, the "next man up" approach is put into play.
But when the Indianapolis Colts lost starting cornerback Kenny Moore II for an extended period last season, they learned just how critical it was to have quality depth behind him, particularly at the nickel cornerback position.
While multiple players tried their best to fill Moore II's shoes - even guys primarily considered outside cornerbacks who were experimenting with the nickel role - the Colts' defense would struggle at times without a capable replacement.
So as general manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff scanned the free agent market this offseason, they wanted to find someone with plenty of experience and a track record of production playing both outside and inside at cornerback who could bolster the depth at either spot.
That's where T.J. Carrie enters the picture.
Carrie, who has 92 total games and 50 starts to his credit over the last six seasons with the Raiders and the Cleveland Browns, on March 30 signed a free agent deal to bring his blend of versatility and leadership to the Indy secondary.
"T.J. is a guy that's got experience playing inside and outside," Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said of Carrie. "That's certainly a piece we were missing at times last year once Kenny went down; we didn't have the depth there that we thought we needed to develop more, and (Carrie's) certainly a piece that can slide in and can slide out."
Moore II, one of the top nickel cornerbacks in the NFL, was putting together another solid season last year when he suffered ankle injury Week 11 against the Tennessee Titans. He wouldn't return to the field the rest of the season.
The Colts shuffled multiple players into Moore II's role, including Shakial Taylor (who was injured and then waived), Rolan Milligan (normally a safety who was eventually placed on injured reserve), Quincy Wilson (who missed a couple games with a shoulder injury down the stretch), rookie Marvell Tell III (who was originally intended to be exclusively lined up on the outside) and late-season signing Brian Boddy-Calhoun.
Carrie, meanwhile, has been there, done that at both outside and nickel cornerback. The 6-foot, 204-pound Ohio University product has collected 331 total tackles (12 for a loss) with five interceptions, 43 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, two sacks and five quarterback hits, and has averaged more than 350 snaps per season lined up in the slot over his six-year NFL career, including 326 snaps with the Browns last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Over the years, Carrie has learned just how difficult it can be for cornerbacks to seamlessly change back and forth between playing outside and inside, but it's a challenge he's taken head-on.
"From an outside perspective, you're definitely just zoned in to your guy, right? 'Tell me what I got; leave me alone,' right? And so, from that standpoint, it is more simplified in the game," Carrie said this offseason in an interview with Colts.com's Matt Taylor. "When you bunch in to the nickel, I think you definitely have to use a different mentality in a sense where you are now in a position where most of the time you're going to have to communicate with the linebackers, the safeties, and, if we're going hurry-up, I've gotta communicate to the cornerback, too, because he's probably not getting the play. So you have to do that. There's a lot of different checks; 'Am I motioning in this coverage? Am I not motioning in this coverage? Am I blitzing in this coverage? When the play starts, is it run-pass and read my keys? Am I supposed to be in this gap, or am I supposed to be in that gap?'
"So there's a multitude of things that go in your mind to where when you're playing that position, you can't be as zoned in from the outside perspective, but at the same time I think that's something that I've always prided on being able to do, is adjust to those types of situations, and you get the experience to blitz and do different schemes and do different disguises (that) you couldn't do on the outside," Carrie continued. "So it's definitely two different types of games that you play."
Carrie is one of a few new faces in the Colts' cornerbacks room this offseason. The team also utilized free agency to bring in former All-Pro Xavier Rhodes, while it used a sixth-round pick to select UMass corner Isaiah Rodgers, who also will be in the mix to provide depth both inside and outside.
The Colts in 2020 return starters Moore II and Rock Ya-Sin, while Tell III seemed to improve with each passing week his rookie season as he made the transition from college safety to NFL cornerback.
Others vying for spots on the final 53-man roster at cornerback for the Colts include Picasso Nelson Jr., Lafayette Pitts, Jackson Porter and Travis Reed.
Carrie said he's looking forward to seeing how all that talent will be utilized once training camp begins later this month.
"You have a bunch of different options on how you want to utilize everybody in defensive packages," Carrie said. " And I think that nowadays in this league, the more talent that you can have, the more exotic things that you can do from a defensive standpoint and confuse offenses, and the more packages that you can put out on the field. And so I think that nowadays offenses are coming out in so many different (looks) - 11 personnel, 10 personnel, 12 personnel, but making it look like an 11-personnel set - that you need that depth and availability from different guys to match up with. So very talented group already, and like I said, I'm fortunate to be a part of it, that we can all bounce ideas off of each other and create something special."