Colts Expanding Role For Rookie Safety Khari Willis


Colts Expanding Role For Rookie Safety Khari Willis

Blog > Kevin's Corner > Colts Coverage > Colts Expanding Role For Rookie Safety Khari Willis

Colts Expanding Role For Rookie Safety Khari Willis

Early in his rookie campaign, safety Khari Willis is seeing an already growing role. Why have the Colts expanded Willis’ playing time?

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLISThe trade back in April was a clear message of what the Colts thought of safety Khari Willis.


Now, the increase in playing time from Week 1 to Week 2 is another indication of the sort of trust that Willis has earned from the coaching staff.


“During the evaluation process when (Willis) was at Michigan State we saw a lot of good things from him in terms of his quickness, his ability to play different spots, his adaptability and just his functional intelligence that we got from the staff there and then we also saw on tape,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus says of his early thoughts on Willis from back in the spring.


“His ability to do different things at different spots is really good. His instincts are also very good. We’ve seen those things on tape this year so far and he’s continuing to grow.”


When Eberflus says ‘grow’ he’s not just talking about the typical natural progression you see from a rookie.


The Colts expanded Willis’ role from Week One to Week Two.


Willis went from playing 16 snaps (25.4%) in Week One, to 30 snaps (50.0%) in Week Two. The rise in playing time led to a growth in production as well. Willis had 7 tackles in Week Two, the second most on the team.


With the playing time for Willis increasing, the reps then dropped for Clayton Geathers (56 snaps and 88.9% of playing time in Week 1, to 42 snaps and 70.0% in Week 2).


In breaking things down further with tackles per snap production of the two safeties, Willis’ impact has been far greater than Geathers.


Was this trend due to the 95-degree heat in Nashville or will we start to see more of Willis on the field?


Against the Titans, Willis made some key stops in space late in that comeback victory, looking like the ‘sure tackler’ he labeled himself with after being drafted in Round Four.


“I think a lot of that is his natural abilities,” Eberflus says of Willis having 7 tackles in just 30 snaps against the Titans. “I think reading his keys certainly helps out, that’s part of coaching and him taking the coaching. Also, his natural abilities lend to that. A space player that’s quick that can close space that’s instinctual. Then technique and desire of tackling, the technique of getting his pads down low and wrapping through the hips and driving his feet.”


As 1 of 10 kids (and 1 of 7 boys), Willis says he was often ‘fighting for a lot’ growing up.


Chris Ballard viewed Willis as one of the top 3 or 4 safeties in the 2019 draft. Ballard thought about selecting Willis in Round Three back in April, but the GM held off before he couldn’t resist the urge to trade up in Round Four.


“His instincts are exceptional,” is how Ballard described the 5-11, 213-pound safety.


When the Colts took Willis back in April, the thought was his full-time starting role wouldn’t come until 2020.


But he’s still playing a massive role for this defense.


“I think I bring toughness to this football team, consistent toughness, playmaking ability, as well as leadership,” Willis says.


“I think those are the three things: I’m tough, I’m a leader and I make plays. That’s something that I’m going to strive to do every single day, every single game and hopefully I’ll be embraced for it.”

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