Can Nick Cross fill the hole left by Khari Willis?
The Indianapolis Colts have recently had another player retire in a “too early” surprise fashion. Khari Willis has stepped away from football to pursue a career in ministries, leaving a vacancy on the Colts’ defense. Luckily Colts’ GM, Chris Ballard, has set his team up for success despite this key departure. Ballard pursued the safety position, which Willis played, pretty heavily during the off-season and brought in a lot of depth and talent to the position. The key players added were; veteran Rodney McLeod and rookie Nick Cross. The more noteworthy player is Nick Cross, fresh out of the University of Maryland. Cross is a playmaker, extremely athletic, and a great fit for Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 defensive scheme.
Cross is walking into Indianapolis at 6-foot, 212 lbs, and boy, can he move. Cross clocked a blistering 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Combine, the same time as Colts legend T.Y Hilton. Cross’s speed shows on his game film and isn’t just a combined outlier; you can see him work sideline to sideline and quickly close on open receivers. Not only does Cross possess good closing speed, but he’s not bad at flat-out man coverage either; although he does seem to get confused by things like motions, misdirections, and switch releases, I’d still trust him to line up across a tight end and cover him like a sheet on a bed.
His athleticism and versatility allow Cross to make plays all over the field. Turn on some Maryland film, and Cross will be moved everywhere. Strong Safety, Free Safety, in the box, this kid is something. Often Cross will get big pass break-ups either while he’s manned up or while providing safety help over the top. In the box, he’s good at sifting through defenders and finding the ball carrier against the run, and he’s a very strong tackler. When Cross is bringing down a player, it’s like watching a nature documentary where the lion brings down its prey; he wraps up and does not let go until they come down.
All of this combined will make Cross excellent for the Colts’ new defensive scheme. I’m sure McLeod will start the season off as our Strong Safety, but I’m also sure Cross will cross him out and take the role quickly. In Bradley’s scheme, we’ll see Cross play more in the box as the “robber.” This will allow him to jump routes, be involved in the run game, get interceptions, and lay the wood. He’ll be able to use his natural gifts to man up on the fly against Cover 3 beaters and use his closing speed to punish over-the-middle passes. Watch for big things to come from Nick Cross this season; I know I will be.
Maryland vs. West Virginia (Week One, Sep. 4, 2021)
Maryland vs. Iowa (Week Five, Oct. 1, 2021)
Maryland vs. Minnesota (Week Seven, Oct. 23, 2021)
Maryland vs. Rutgers (Week 12, Nov. 27, 2021)