Gilmore brings intriguing skill set to Colts' defensive secondary

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Aug. 3—WESTFIELD — There is no more intriguing player in training camp at Grand Park this summer than Stephon Gilmore.

The veteran cornerback was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year three years ago, but he's struggled with injuries since. Despite making the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, Gilmore has missed a combined 14 games.

It's probably too much to expect the 31-year-old to return to his elite form. But the Indianapolis Colts believe Gilmore's experience will be a valuable asset for a rising young defense, and the team is confident he still has enough left in the tank to be competent on the field.

"The guy knows how to play. He knows how to cover," assistant general manager Ed Dodds said. "I mean, we have to keep watching him. Father Time is undefeated. So is he going to look like he looked three years ago? I don't know that. But we saw enough of him (last year) in Carolina.

"They had a group of guys, and they were taking care of him. He had the knee that they scoped. There was more going on with it than I think anyone knew last year. So he's in a much better place. He didn't play bad for them. He just didn't play a lot, and I think that was just the health stuff going on. I mean, the biggest thing is — we've had success with those guys, like Xavier (Rhodes). It's just knowing how to play. It sounds simple enough, but those guys have been doing it a long time. It makes a difference."

Gilmore has the size and length (6-foot, 190 pounds) new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley looks for at cornerback. And he said he's finally feeling like himself after a couple of tough years from a health standpoint.

It's already shown up on the practice field. Through luck of the draw, Gilmore's been matched up several times against rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce.

During Tuesday's first practice in pads, Pierce leapt for a potential one-handed touchdown catch near the corner of the end zone. Gilmore quickly closed the ground between them and gave the receiver a hard shove in the ribs to break up the pass.

The play was just one of many ways in which the veteran defender has taught Pierce nothing will come easily in the NFL.

"Just running routes, a lot of times he knows what route I'm running before I even run the route just off of splits and how I'm stemming and stuff like that, so that's wild," Pierce said. "I always try to pick his brain, see what he's seeing. But, yeah, it's wild. It's really crazy. You know how smart he is as a player."

Gilmore enjoys the challenge of facing a young receiver with elite speed, and he believes the regular matchups are making both players better.

After 11 years in the NFL, he's enjoying the experience in Indianapolis as a whole. He visited the Indianapolis Farm Bureau Football Center and got to know many people in the franchise long before signing his contract.

He also did a little extra research, checking in with cornerback Kenny Moore II — a former teammate with the New England Patriots — to get a player's view of the operation.

Everything he's seen so far makes him believe the ingredients are in place for success.

"I like the vibe here," Gilmore said. "I like the guys. I like the coaches. Everybody here does everything to help the team win. That's one thing I've noticed. The training staff, the weight room, is collective as a whole. That's one thing I'm excited about."

Gilmore figures to play a major role in any potential success.

Bradley was looking for a cornerback with all of his various skill sets to round out the position group. Moore is a versatile Pro Bowler who can play inside and out, and Brandon Facyson and Isaiah Rodgers are engaged in a spirited battle for the No. 3 corner slot.

Gilmore's role is to serve as the leader of the group and help bring everyone's talent together.

The fact he can do that with the on-field skills of one of the league's best overall defenders is a significant bonus.

"Here's a guy that's tall, long and can play press (coverage)," Bradley said. "He feels good about being isolated at times, so all those characteristics, his demeanor — very flat line, nothing really gets him shook. He's seen a lot of things. Then in the zone coverage, he's got really, really good instincts and ball skills — really good at that.

"So I think now it's just getting a feel for what we're actually having him do in those situations. His length, his size, his savviness and obviously his experience (told us he'd be a good fit here)."