May 24—Marvell Tell III believes he's become a better football player over the past year.
Faster. Healthier. More experienced.
The former Southern California safety displayed hints of his vast potential during his first year as a cornerback with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Then he took advantage of the NFL's voluntary opt out provision for the pandemic-altered 2020 regular season.
Tell spent the year watching and supporting his teammates from afar. He made the decision for personal reasons in the best interest of his family, and he never second-guessed his thought process.
"I didn't have any regrets," Tell said. "The decision was made, and you gotta roll with it. So I took full advantage of that time — feel like I got better in my skill work and my technical work and kept my head in the playbook and was just waiting for this opportunity again."
And the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder has quite an opportunity ahead.
Kenny Moore II and Xavier Rhodes are locked in as the top two cornerbacks on the depth chart, but the all-important third spot — essentially a starter as the second outside corner in sub packages — is likely open for competition. Rock Ya-Sin is the early favorite for the spot, but he must take several steps forward in this third year after struggling with penalties and inconsistency in the past. Veteran T.J. Carrie and Tell should provide plenty of competition for the job.
The first challenge for Tell, of course, will be quickly getting back to where he left off two years ago.
The 24-year-old played in 13 games with one start as a rookie. He finished with 26 tackles, five passes broken up and one forced fumble. Looking deeper into the numbers, Tell allowed quarterbacks to compete 57.1% of 35 targets against him, surrendering two touchdowns and 7 yards per target. Quarterbacks had a 97.8 rating when targeting him.
For comparison's sake, Ya-Sin was targeted 67 times last season and 67.2% of those passes were completed. He surrendered a pair of touchdowns and 8.9 yards per target, with a quarterback rating of 98.7. Carrie allowed 57.5% of 40 targets to be completed against him for an average of 7.7 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks had a paltry 78.0 rating against him.
If Tell simply can translate his rookie season efficiency to a larger sample size, he should be squarely in the mix.
While working out on his own in Texas throughout the 2020 season, Tell never felt estranged from the team.
"That's always something that you'll feel in the back of your head," he said. "But Coach (Frank) Reich and (general manager) Chris Ballard were very supportive of my decision — as well as the other players that made the decision on this squad — and it was all love. I kept in contact throughout the whole time.
"It's like a family here, right? I wasn't just gone — went ghost that whole time. No, there was communication going on, and I felt like I was still part of the squad."
Linebacker Skai Moore and safety Roland Milligan also opted out last season. All three players have been back at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for voluntary workouts this spring.
It wasn't a difficult decision for Tell to return. The year away felt like an extended offseason, but he always planned to come back to the Colts.
His return to practice last week felt natural — breaking a sweat, talking trash and enjoying time with his teammates.
"I'm a football player," Tell said. "It's something I was born to do, in a way."
HALL OF FAME
The Colts announced Monday that Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James will receive their Pro Football Hall of Fame commemorative rings Sept. 19. Indianapolis hosts the Los Angeles Rams that day at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Manning — a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2021 — and James — part of the Class of 2020 — will be inducted during separate ceremonies in August at Canton, Ohio.