INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard continued to make over his defense Thursday by adding another all-pro to the Indianapolis Colts’ roster.
Veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the team, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The former Florida State star will bring some much-needed experience to a young defensive secondary.
After the release of cornerback Pierre Desir last week, the top of the depth chart included rising star Kenny Moore II and a pair of players coming off their rookie seasons – Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III.
In Rhodes, the Colts add a three-time Pro Bowler who was named first-team all-pro in 2017 but also has struggled in recent years and turns 30 in June.
It’s the latest high-profile move for Ballard in what has become a very active fourth offseason as general manager. Indianapolis traded its first-round pick (No. 13 overall) to the San Francisco 49ers for all-pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner last week and signed his fellow Super Bowl starter at defensive tackle, former Notre Dame and Warren Central star Sheldon Day, on Wednesday.
The Colts also added 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers on a one-year deal to lead the offense. The one thing all the moves have in common? They all feature veterans known for their leadership qualities.
That’s an area Ballard felt Indianapolis was lacking last season after the loss of defensive tackle Al Woods and safety Mike Mitchell, among others.
“I don’t think you can ever overestimate the power of veteran leadership, even if they’re not frontline players for you,” Ballard said in January. “Just when it gets a little hard, they’re a calming factor. That’s my fault. And I’ve got to do a better job of acquiring the right type of veterans on the defense and on the offensive side of the ball who can help guys get through these rough moments.”
Rough moments piled up particularly for the defensive secondary down the stretch. As the Colts stumbled to a 2-7 finish and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years with a 7-9 record, big plays from opposing offenses became increasingly common.
A three-point road loss against the Houston Texans in a key November AFC South matchup featured three big passes from DeShaun Watson that led directly to points. Two of them – including the game winner – were touchdown throws to since departed wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
A week later, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill sealed a comeback victory at Lucas Oil Stadium with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond.
The season ended with three losses in the final four games during which the defense surrendered 456 yards and four touchdowns to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, 307 yards and four touchdowns to New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees and 285 yards and three scores to Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Gardner Minshew.
Much of that damage was done with Moore on the sideline because of a knee injury, but Ballard made it clear the quality of play wasn’t close to good enough.
“Giving up explosive plays gets your (rear) beat,” Ballard said. “If you look at the tight games we lost, that’s what happened. Houston, we gave up five of them. Tennessee, we gave up a couple of explosive runs and the big shot at the end of the game. You can’t give up explosives.
“There’s two areas I talked to (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) about: Explosives, and then I said, we’re not taking the ball away at a rate that we need to to be successful. We have to be better at that, and that falls on me, too. I’ve got to find players that can take the ball away. We have not done that at a level that I think is good enough yet.”
Rhodes had five interceptions in 2016 and two more a year later in his all-pro season. But he had just one pick in 2018 and none last year.
He remains a willing tackler with a career-high 63 stops last season, including five tackles for loss, and that’s an area of strong focus in the Colts’ scheme.
The 25th overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, Rhodes has 10 interceptions, three forced fumbles and 73 passes broken up with 97 career starts.