INDIANAPOLIS – Rock Ya-Sin should be a three-time Georgia state wrestling champion.
During his senior season, Ya-Sin was poised for a three-peat when he made one small mistake and lost his state finals match.
It was a tough lesson about the significance of details, and it’s one that’s hammered home again daily in the NFL.
The Indianapolis Colts rookie cornerback is undergoing a swift education this summer.
There are times when the 23-year-old looks like a star student, such as his pick-pocketing of veteran wide receiver Devin Funchess during practice last week.
And there are others when he shows how far he still has to go, such as the pass interference penalty he picked up in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland that set up the Browns’ first touchdown.
Defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon is a stickler for details. He can easily be heard on the practice field yelling out instructions about hand placement, hip movement, reads, keys and any other tidbit he believes will help the Colts play with more efficiency.
It’s a graduate course in professional football, and Ya-Sin is an eager pupil.
“Coach JG’s always on us about understanding we have to disguise our looks, disguise our defenses,” Ya-Sin said. “That’s how you put pressure on the quarterback and get that extra tick. That extra tick of the quarterback holding the ball for one more second or two more seconds, those equal sacks or interceptions.”
That’s where Ya-Sin’s education goes to the next level.
He’s been learning about the speed of the NFL game, the accuracy of the quarterbacks, the precise route running of the wide receivers and all the other normal hurdles rookies face across the league.
But he’s also been learning to lie.
And to do it well.
Deception is a major part of Indianapolis’ defensive scheme. As the players progressed in defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ system last year, he became more creative and aggressive with his disguises.
The Colts have picked up right where they left off, and they’re getting very good at deceit.
“A lot of times defenses think they’re disguising something, and they’ve shown their disguise so much that you know what their disguise is,” wide receiver Krishawn Hogan said. “Well, our defense does such a good job of really keeping you on your toes because they show you a look, and it’s not really what they’re playing. So much so where you really have to, right at the snap is when you really have to read things out.”
Ya-Sin smiled when that sentiment was relayed to him.
He said it’s part of the Colts’ culture. The new faces in the defensive secondary – including Ya-Sin and fellow rookie, safety Khari Willis – only need to watch the guys taking the practice reps before them to catch on quickly.
If they need another pointer or two, they’ll go to the coaching staff for further information.
But if they’re on the field, they’re expected to produce the same as anybody else.
There is no grading curve.
“I feel like any time you’re around great competitors, it’s only gonna raise your level of competition, raise your level of talent,” Ya-Sin said. “If you continue (working) around guys that are good, you have to raise your level of play if you want to play. So I feel like just coming in and competing against those guys will make me better.”
It brings the second-round pick full circle to his wrestling past.
The competitive nature that led him to a pair of state titles still serves him well. It helped him make a name for himself as a raw prospect at tiny Presbyterian in South Carolina. And it helped mark him as one of the toughest players on the roster during his lone season at Temple.
Now, it helps him learn from the bad moments and strive to repeat the good.
“That’s kind of been ingrained into me,” Ya-Sin said. “It’s part of my being now, just being a competitor. So I feel like it’s helped me, and it’s transferred well to football.”
From the time the ball is snapped until the whistle blows, Ya-Sin is on an island.
It’s him and the guy across from him, and nothing else matters.
He works on his technique, his reads and his awareness. He’s trying to process a host of new information on the fly and react to it in real time.
It’s a hard job, and the mistakes are on full display.
But Ya-Sin learned long ago to block everything else out and just focus on the details.
“It’s a great team sport, but there are a lot of individual matchups,” he said of football. “It’s the same as wrestling. You go out there on the mat, it’s just you and the guy in front of you.”
If the past is prologue, Ya-Sin will learn quickly and get the best of most battles.