INDIANAPOLIS – His rookie season grade fell on the ‘average’ scale for a starting NFL cornerback, but don’t let that cloud how the Colts view his future.
The Colts know they threw Rock Ya-Sin into the fire.
They knew there would be growing pains.
But they also believed Ya-Sin could handle it, and grow from it.
And as Ya-Sin enters his second NFL season, the Colts coaching staff is bullish that he will learn from the ups and downs that came from playing the most snaps of any Indy defender last year.
“Obviously, we put (Ya-Sin) in some spots where he was covering the other team’s best receiver at times,” cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon said to Colts.com earlier this offseason. “He had a lot of learning on the job to do coming from the system that he played in college. We asked him to do some different things here.
“His character is through the roof. He always stayed positive, even when he didn’t play up to his standard, per se. On Monday, he’d come back, ‘Hey, how could I get better?’ Never shied away from having a tough matchup which was really good to see because a lot of times you see when you start giving guys tough duty, week-to-week, they might struggle in a game and might not want that tough duty the next game. He’s not one of those guys. It was a great pick for us. I thought he graded out about average as far as a starter level. I think the sky is the roof for him. He’s going to play better next year. That spot, there’s a lot of mistakes that you have to make and go through to improve your game from one game to the next and even from a rookie season to his second year. I think he’s really going to hit his stride this year and get going.”
At Temple, Ya-Sin was a bulldog out on an island, as a man coverage cornerback.
Teams wanted no part of throwing at him. In the NFL though, teams frequently picked on the rookie corner making a change from his college responsibilities.
“What we ask him to do with his eyes,” Gannon said of Ya-Sin’s biggest change in playing in the Colts defense. “In college, he would just play with man eyes all the time, looked at his guy and covered his guy all the time. Well, in the NFL, the game is not that, when you are a multiple system like we are. So there’s a lot of times that you don’t know what you are going to do until the ball is snapped. There was just some transition from that.”
The Colts liked the way Ya-Sin, who started 13 of the 15 games he played in, was trending towards the end of the 2019.
They felt he had responded from the technique breakdowns earlier in the year, particularly the one that led to a penalty-day filled matchup shadowing Denver’s Courtland Sutton in October.
It’s a game that Ya-Sin felt like was an important pivot point for a much better close to his rookie season.
Too much grabbing late in plays against the Broncos is something Ya-Sin actually points to as needed footwork attention this offseason.
“The biggest thing I worked on this offseason wasn’t my hands, it was more so my feet,” the 24-year-old cornerback says. “If you win early with your feet, you won’t have a tendency to use your hands. A lot of the times we use our hands when we panic and we think we are in trouble as a corner, when we think we are beat. But if you win early with your feet and use your hands early, when it’s legal, within the five yards, then you’ll be in control of a route where you don’t have to grab a guy and you won’t think you’ll have to grab a guy, or penalize a guy.”
Ya-Sin finished last year allowing a 69.7 percent completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 109.2.
What 2019 offered the Colts and Ya-Sin, was a clear plan of what the physical corner did well as a rookie and what needs to be worked on moving forward.
A continued belief of the Indy coaching staff in Ya-Sin comes from his work ethic.
“We had a post eval meeting (after the 2019 season) and the thing that kept coming up is he’s going to will himself to be a really good player,” Gannon said. “And you saw that this year even when he had a couple of games when he had a couple of penalties. He’s got a short memory which you need as a corner.
“He’s all about how do I improve and how do I get better.”
It was a massive factor in the Colts turning down trade offers early in Round 2 of the 2019 Draft, and staying put at No. 34 to take Ya-Sin.
“He had some really good moments, and he had some ugly moments,” Chris Ballard says of Ya-Sin’s rookie campaign. “Let me tell you what I love about this kid, he’s exactly what we thought he was going to be in terms of grit, toughness. Holy crap, you line up 16 games and you’re asked to play some great players. All he does is work. ‘Good day, I’m going to keep working. Bad day, I’m going to keep working.’ That’s why he’s going to get better.
“I thought the last part of the season he played pretty well. He was getting better and ascending. It’ll be a big offseason for him. We’re happy for Rock.”
Even Kenny Moore felt some of that improvement from Ya-Sin in the spring virtual meetings.
“The adversity that he was impacted with last year, he had to just keep swinging,” Moore said. “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.
“I’ve seen a change already from him in the meeting rooms. He’s able to answer questions, he’s able to ask questions, he’s asking other players. He’s doing all the right things correctly.”