Colts Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin Maintains Confidence After Learning From Rookie Year
Phillip B. Wilson
Rock Ya-Sin doesn’t need anyone to mention the Denver game.
The Indianapolis Colts cornerback brought up that humbling memory from his rookie season in a Wednesday Zoom video conference call.
“I wouldn’t say it was hard for me to stay sure of myself, but 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.
“Thankfully, thank God we were able to win that game, but I knew that I hurt the team that game. 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. So I’ve always kept great confidence because I have confidence in number one I’ve demonstrated ability, then two in my work ethic.”
Selected 34th overall in 2019 to address an obvious team need, Ya-Sin was thrust into the lineup, which despite his penchant for penalties in being flagged for holding and pass interference, he thought playing so many snaps proved to be beneficial in speeding up his learning curve.
No Colts defender was on the field more than Ya-Sin, whose 851 snaps were by far the largest count. The next closest was safety Malik Hooker at 788.
A former championship wrestler in high school, Ya-Sin plays a physical game, which often meant being overly hands-on with tugs of receiver jerseys. But when asked if he’s been working on his hand-to-hand contact this offseason, Ya-Sin said the most important lesson learned as a rookie was to utilize his feet more than his hands.
“As far as the penalties yeah, I wanted to keep my hands down as far as later in the down, but as far as the biggest thing I’ve worked on this offseason it wasn’t keeping my hands, it was more so my feet,” he said. “If you win early with your feet, you won’t have the tendency to use your hands. A lot of times we use our hands when we panic and we think we’re in trouble as a corner – when we think we are beaten or whatever.
“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 the route where you won’t have to grab a guy. You won’t even think that you’ll have to grab a guy, penalize or foul a guy.”
In his defense, Ya-Sin drew arguably two of the toughest coverage assignments in matching up with Atlanta’s Julio Jones and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas. Those All-Pro wide receivers are going to make plays against anybody.
Whatever progress Ya-Sin made could be described as somewhat inconsistent — positive plays didn’t always outweigh the negative ones. But it became increasingly important for him to stay confident and believe in himself. Don’t let doubt creep in that you don’t belong.
“Just to trust myself, trust my coaching, trust my teammates – guys are going to be where they are supposed to be – coaches are going to put us in the best position and just go out and make plays,” he said. “Have confidence throughout the game – ups, downs, guys catch balls. Guys are going to make plays, this is the NFL. This is the best of the best, so you have to keep your head and just continue to play.”
He thought maintaining confidence translated to more consistency after that home win over Denver in Week 8. Ya-Sin was named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Team.
“Yeah, I feel like it definitely did,” Ya-Sin said. “I feel like I was proud of myself because people kept coming to me after the Denver game and were like, ‘Keep your head. Keep your head. Keep your head.’ 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.”
When assessing Ya-Sin, it’s worth remembering how he came from humble beginnings in Decatur, Ga., didn’t get much attention from colleges, thrived at small colleges, and got noticed his final year after transferring to Temple.
The 24-year-old player has always considered himself the underdog, someone who has had to fight for everything he’s earned. So facing adversity is something he’s been doing his entire life.
“Definitely. I feel like my past experiences make me who I am today,” he said. “Growing up tough, having struggles as just being me – going through life. Growing up in a tough environment, having struggles in school, struggling in college playing ball, struggling at wrestling – I mean I never came in on top. I’m always the underdog. I’m always the guy who has had to work twice as hard.
“You can’t work that hard – you have invested too much to turn back. You see what I’m saying? Once you’ve invested so much, it’s like, ‘I’ve got to keep going forward. I’ve got to get to the finish.’”
That’s why playing the most snaps of any Colts defender was to his benefit.
“I feel like the best teacher is experience,” Ya-Sin said. “I feel like they knew that they needed to get me out there so I could get my feet wet, and I was prepared for that. I was 100 percent prepared for that. Wherever I was drafted, I knew that after the combine, after the senior bowl, everything like that – wherever I was drafted I was looking to get on the field and play as much as possible wherever I landed. Coming to the Colts, I knew we had good corners. I knew I’d have to compete in camp and as I started to rise in the depth chart, I looked forward to playing a lot early and I did play a lot early. I just wanted to use that as a stepping stone for this next season to propel me deeper into my career.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)