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Colts' youth movement at cornerback will help them evaluate for the future

Nate Hairston is among three rookie cornerbacks the Colts will likely start at cornerback this weekend. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- The youth movement, albeit not by choice, is officially underway for the Indianapolis Colts at cornerback.

Rookies Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore II and Nate Hairston will likely be the Colts top three cornerbacks when they play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. That's because veteran Rashaan Melvin (hand) is expected to miss his second straight game and Pierre Desir (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve on Monday.

"They come in here and they're being asked to do a job, and everybody is counting on them to prepare and do their job to the best of their ability," coach Chuck Pagano said about his rookie cornerbacks. "And that's all the expectations are is that you work and you prepare and you compete to the best of your ability."

Hairston, who has an interception, has been a fixture as the Colts slot cornerback all season. Playing Hairston in the slot has allowed for veteran Darius Butler to focus on strictly playing safety. For Wilson and Moore, getting significant snaps will allow them to showcase their skills in the final four games -- a period of thorough evaluation for the front office as they determine who fits the roster going forward. The Colts may not have Melvin or Desir next season because both are free agents.

Moore, who has spent most of the season primarily as a special teams player, became the third outside corner when Vontae Davis got taken out of the lineup before being released last month. Wilson, the team's second-round pick last spring, has been a mystery player for the Colts. He was inactive for three games due to a knee injury, and he was a healthy inactive for five games after a strong Week 2 performance against Arizona.

"Getting Quincy Wilson back healthy -- he had a little knee nick here for the last couple months; just couldn't quite get over the hump -- getting him his playing time will be very beneficial to him," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said on 1070 A.M. in Indianapolis earlier this week. "And our other secondary members that are coming on at this time, especially Kenny Moore -- another guy we claimed at the cut-down day -- he's getting some meaningful snaps, and Hairston's getting some meaningful snaps.

The trio of Wilson, Moore and Hairston got significant playing time together after Desir was injured in the first half of the Week 13 game at Jacksonville. Pagano described their performance as being "some good stuff and some not so good stuff."

All three of them had at least four tackles. Hairston was defending on two Jacksonville touchdown passes. A key going forward isn't just the ability to defend their men, but also to show they have strong communication skills. They will come across things, like different formations, that they haven't seen before during a game. Being on the same page will help soften the blow of having three rookies on the field together.

"You can practice it and practice it," Pagano said. "You can stop, blow the whistle and run it again. You don't get to do that (in a game). And you try to show them everything and put them in every situation that you possibly can. So their assignment and how you're going to play stacks and bunches and the thing that happened in the red area down there -- they've all got to be on the same page.

"We always say, 'If you're all wrong, you're all right.' So if everybody is playing the same thing -- it's supposed to be Cover 2 but they all play Cover 3 -- you're OK. But if half are playing (Cover) 3 and half are playing (Cover) 2, you've got a problem. Again, chances are with young players that haven't been in that situation a lot it gets difficult. And it happens, especially where it was, it happens really fast down there."