INDIANAPOLIS – The expectation is for the biggest jump in a player’s performance to occur from year 1 to year 2. Rookie growing pains should lead to noticeable growth.
It could be argued Rock Ya-Sin already has made that significant leap.
After a halting start to his rookie season, the Indianapolis Colts’ second-round draft pick clearly got his act together over the second half of the year.
“Yeah, I feel it definitely did,’’ Ya-Sin said of gathering himself as his rookie season unfolded.
As strange as it may sound, things began to come together after what unquestionably was his worst afternoon as a pro. That would be week 8 against Denver in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts managed a 15-13 win on Adam Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining, but they had to overcome a slew of Ya-Sin’s missteps in the process. The young cornerback was penalized five times – one was declined – while shadowing Broncos’ standout Courtland Sutton.
Four of the penalties gifted Denver 61 yards while Sutton also whipped Ya-Sin for a 50-yard reception.
It turned out to be a defining moment, for all the right reasons.
Rather than wilting, Ya-Sin blossomed. He displayed the type of steely resolve and bounce-back mindset so important at one of the game’s most unforgiving positions.
“I was proud of myself because people kept coming to me after the Denver game and was like, ‘Keep your head. Keep your head. Keep your head,’’’ Ya-Sin said. “I was telling them, ‘I’m good. I’m going to continue playing.’
“I was proud of the way that I continued to get better throughout the season because you are at a crossroads, that’s a turning point for a young player right there after having a really bad game or really bad games back-to-back. Being able to continue to get better, kind of silence the noise and continue to get better and continue to push forward, I was proud of myself for that.
“I was proud of how I finished the season.’’
He experienced and benefitted from what amounted to a tale of two seasons.
Per Indystar.com, Ya-Sin’s first eight games were more pain than pleasure. He allowed completions at a 73.1 percent rate, 13.9 yards per attempt and a 140.7 passer rating. The growth was unmistakable over the second half of the season: 62.5 completion percentage, 7.0 yards per attempt and a 65.97 passer rating.
The Colts made him their first pick in the draft because of his aggressive, physical style. However, he had a tendency to be too “hands-on’’ in coverage. But over the final eight games, Ya-Sin was penalized just twice.
Nickel back Kenny Moore II noticed Ya-Sin’s growth last season, and that continued during the Colts’ virtual offseason work.
“I’ve seen change already from in the meeting rooms,’’ he said. “Rock is great, though. The adversity that he was impacted with last year, he had to just keep swinging.
“The advice I gave him last year was, ‘If you expect to be perfect, don’t even come on the field.’ There’s going to be a lot of things that happen on the field that you don’t want to happen, and that’s just the likelihood of our job to be a defensive back. There’s going to be great guys on the field so you’ve just got to keep playing.’’
Perspective and context never were an issue for Ya-Sin.
“Guys are going to make plays. This is the NFL,’’ he said. “This is the best of the best so you have to keep your head and just continue to play.’’
The Colts decided from the outset they were going to lean heavily on their draft class and accept what undoubtedly would be mixed results. Seven of Ballard’s first eight picks last year addressed the defense and five started at least one game: Ya-Sin, Ben Banogu, Bobby Okereke, Khari Willis and Marvell Tell III.
Ya-Sin started a rookie-best 13 games and was on the field for 851 snaps, most among all defensive players.
“The best teacher is experience,’’ he said. “I feel like they knew that they needed to get me out there so I could get my feel wet, and I was prepared for that.’’
“We were going to put those guys in and play because we knew that there were our future. They were going to be our future and they were going to be a big part of our success going forward,’’ coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “We couldn’t be afraid to put them in there right away so they can get that experience and playing time because we knew they were good enough.
“We knew that at the end of (2019), we wanted to have a young but experienced defense and that is what we have now. So we have guys that have a lot of play underneath their belt and they understand what the standards are.’’
Ya-Sin clearly represents a potential defensive cornerstone, especially after the team released veteran corner Pierre Desir and signed Xavier Rhodes to one-year deal. Also, the Colts opted not to exercise the fifth-year option of safety Malik Hooker’s rookie contract.
Again, his demanding rookie season – and overall disposition – should serve him well moving forward.
“I did have hard days,’’ Ya-Sin said. “I mean, like everybody knows the Denver game – five penalties. That’s hard on any player because you feel like you are hurting the team. You’re not helping the team win. You are actually hurting the team.
“But as far as me staying sure of myself, I know myself. I know my preparation and I know the kind of player that I am.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.