Amidst a youthful defensive backfield for the Indianapolis Colts, second-year safety Nick Cross has proved throughout his limited snaps thus far in 2023 that he belongs in the NFL. Whether that be a bonafide special teamer or starter on the defensive side of the ball, that audition officially begins now.
If you recall, Cross began his NFL career in 2022 as the Colts' starting safety alongside Julian Blackmon. After a couple inconsistent weeks from the then freshly turned 21-year-old, it was fellow rookie Rodney Thomas II's time to shine.
Thomas II certainly had a solid rookie campaign, though his regression to the mean in year two has been cause for concern on two fronts: Julian Blackmon needs re-signed and who will be this other starting safety moving forward? With Cross and Thomas II being classmates, the Colts have two more seasons to decipher which, if either, are in the plans beyond just 2024.
For Cross, although an unfortunate Julian Blackmon trip to the IR made this reality possible, this audition couldn't have come soon enough. After the aforementioned struggle that Cross saw as a mere rookie, his sophomore campaign has been full of promising flashes.
Nick Cross has the opportunity to shine for Colts
So far in 2023 Nick Cross has totaled 19 tackles and four stops on the ground. In the air, Cross has only allowed one reception on five targets, taking one of those targets away for his first professional interception.
It always made sense that it would take a little extra time to get Cross acclimated to the NFL given his age, what made it more puzzling, however, is that Cross was thriving in the preseason as a rookie. Perhaps reality set in and the pre-to-regular season jump messed with his confidence, and yes it was preseason, but Cross was running with the starters even then, so although a less serious brand of football, he showcased the talent before ever of drinking age.
Fast-forward to the last few weeks of his second year in the league and Nick Cross is itching to prove himself. He has felt more and more confident as the season has progressed, picking up multiple roles within the defense. Cross has become the defense's swiss-army knife, serving as a backup to three different positions (FS, SS, & SLCB). This heavy plate of Cross' has almost served as a hindrance to his playing time due to the availability he must preserve for numerous responsibilities.
Even though defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Co. took a more eased approach with Cross to begin this season, it has seemingly paid off in the long run. Bradley said just recently that he believes Cross' concentration and overall endurance has mightily improved just over the course of this season. Whether it be play one to 20 in practice or one to 70 in-game, "he can concentrate and play at a high level the whole length."
On Cross earning the staff's trust and the need for him following Blackmon's injury, Gus Bradley explained that, "he's going to get a chance to show that." In his 161 logged defensive snaps thus far in 2023, Cross has played like the league's fourth-best safety according to Pro Football Focus. Albeit a smaller sample size, though enough to draw the conclusion that Nick Cross certainly belongs.
Now with Julian Blackmon sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, Nick Cross and his versatile ways should prove as a fruitful understudy and could even showcase why he should be starting for this Colts defense beyond this last stretch of 2023.