INDIANAPOLIS — Why Indianapolis Colts cornerback Rock Ya-Sin changed his jersey number is partly an indication of how he expects to be a stronger player in his second NFL season.
As a 2019 second-round selection, when he wore No. 34, Ya-Sin’s indoctrination into covering some of the best receivers made a lasting impression on how he needs to improve. When he wasn’t drawing penalty flags for being too hands-on in the first half of the year, he was still allowing too many receptions in the second half.
Ya-Sin wanted to flush away his rookie year, starting with a jersey switch to No. 26. The number is tied to two of his college digits, but this change signifies so much more than that.
“No. 1, I wore No. 2 in college and I wore No. 6 in college, that was kind of cool,” he said in a Tuesday Zoom video call. “But also for me, it’s kind of a new beginning. Last year, I’m trying to put it in my rear-view, learn from it, the ups and downs of last year, learn from it, but it’s a new beginning for me, kind of restarting myself in this league on this team.”
That starts with using his feet more and his hands less.
“I just wanted to be a better pro all the way around,” he said. “Specifically, I wanted to have better feet. I wanted to be more disciplined at the top of routes, keeping my hands down, not fouling guys, and just making plays on the ball. I wanted to make more plays on the ball. I wanted to not let my guy catch the ball. That’s my job description. Number one, do not let my guy catch the ball. That’s what I wanted to do this camp.”
He insists he’s learned his lesson about grabbing receivers when he’s beat.
“Just understanding all the time, it’s always in my mind, keep my hands down,” Ya-Sin said. “That’s not a part of my game anymore. Having my hands on guys after five yards is not a part of my game. Win with my feet. That’s it. Win, lose. win with my feet. Have confidence in my feet, have confidence in my ability to make plays without fouling guys. You work all offseason for that, so you come out here and put it on the grass, and you see the results.”
Ya-Sin is in excellent shape with just 2 percent body fat on his muscular 6-0, 190-pound frame. General manager Chris Ballard loves the cornerback’s work ethic and appreciated what he saw in training camp.
“Rock Ya-Sin has had a great camp – competitive,” Ballard said on Sunday. “Everything we thought about him, he is just ascending and I think he is just going to continue to ascend because he is so 'dadgum' mentally tough. He doesn’t say a word, he just works. He competes and he works. I think that’s contagious on the group.”
Ya-Sin says he’s been a different player on the practice field.
“I feel like this year, this camp, I’m playing more confident,” he said. “I’m making more plays. I’m playing like a tick faster because I’ve seen it before now. Last year was my first time seeing a lot of things and now I’m understanding concepts, I’m recognizing them faster and being able to make plays and be decisive faster.”
The Colts open the regular season Sunday at Jacksonville (1 p.m., EST). Another factor that could help Ya-Sin and the secondary is a vastly improved defensive line led by the acquisition of All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. The defense doesn’t expect to allow opposing quarterbacks as much time to throw, which means Ya-Sin and others won’t have to cover as long and can react more quickly to throws.
“It’s huge. It’s huge,” Ya-Sin said. “That quarterback has less time to throw the ball even when we’re rushing just four. A lot of times when you’re having to send five and six, it opens up holes in the defense.
“When we can rush four and get pressure on that quarterback where he doesn’t have time to pass the ball all day and go through his progressions, it just speeds things up. Receivers can’t do as much at the line. They have to get into their route faster. It kind of throws off the timing. A great d-line is a defensive back’s best friend.”
(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.)