WESTFIELD — Malik Hooker couldn’t believe his eyes.
The Quincy Wilson in front of him, the one that showed up at the Colts’ facility for the start of offseason workouts in April, looked nothing like the Quincy Wilson he’d come to expect in their first two years as teammates.
This Quincy Wilson looked lean and cut, lighter than Hooker had ever seen him before.
“He came in, what, 220, his rookie year?” Hooker said. “He lost a lot of weight to get his body where we need it to be.”
Hooker’s eyes weren’t lying to him.
Wilson, the same Wilson who’d showed up to his first training camp at 214 pounds, carrying 14 or 15 percent body fat — overweight for his frame — reported for his third season in Indianapolis at 192 pounds and a body fat of just seven percent.
The physical transformation caught the eye of Wilson’s teammates, of his coaches, of Ballard, a man who’d admitted at the end of the regular season that it wasn’t Wilson’s fault he’d been drafted at the ripe young age of 20, that the Colts bore some blame for not doing enough to help Wilson prepare emotionally for his rookie season.
The transformation that began in the first half of the 2018 season was finally complete.
“It was probably the last thing I needed to do,” Wilson said. “I’d fixed everything. I’d fixed my practice habits, my attitude, everything. The last straw was really giving my all to my diet and making sure my body was in tip-top shape.”
Wilson had already become a changed football player, had spent the second half of the season living up to the billing he’d earned as a second-round pick in Ballard’s first draft class in Indianapolis. Under immense pressure after a lackluster rookie season and an uneven first half of his second season, Wilson latched onto the leadership of veteran safety Mike Mitchell and cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon, and finally figured out how to play in the NFL.
Gannon got through to Wilson, taught him how to practice, demanded he play up to the level the Colts expected. Mitchell taught Wilson how to prepare, how to watch film, how to break down film.
Most importantly, he helped Wilson ignore the past and focus on moving forward.
“Mike had a big influence on him, just in terms of telling him, ‘Don’t worry about the noise. Control what I can control,’” Ballard said in May. “When you take a young player — Quincy’s a prime example — who’s 20 years old, coming out of a college where you were a 5-star recruit, had success, reading social media, second-round pick, expectations are high, and then it doesn’t go the way you thought it would go. Now you’re reading social media and everybody’s killing you. Why aren’t you starting? Why aren’t you leading the league in picks?”
Forget about Wilson’s slow start to his career. The Quincy Wilson who served as a key member of the Colts’ starting lineup for the final eight games of the season and the team’s two playoff games looked like a player on the rise. In those 10 games, Wilson allowed a paltry 65.2 quarterback rating in coverage, a number that ranked seventh in the NFL over that span, according to the analytics site Pro Football Focus.
His physical transformation had already begun.
Wilson opened last season at 205, 206 pounds, a size that seemed good for a cornerback whose 6-1 frame was part of the reason he’d been highly coveted in the draft. As the season progressed and Wilson matured, though, his weight began to drop, down to 200 pounds, and he could feel the difference.
“I started to feel better, so I just knew that I had to take the next step and just completely dedicate myself to that,” Wilson said. “Now, I feel really good running around. My lung capacity and everything, I just feel great.”
As good as Wilson was down the stretch last season, he’s back on a Colts team that carries much more depth at the cornerback position. Indianapolis drafted Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin with its first pick of the 2019 draft, and former second-round pick Jalen Collins, who lost his chance in Atlanta due to drug-related suspensions, has played well this offseason, earning some rotations with the starters in training camp so far.
But Wilson is playing better than he ever has, and he brings an added dimension to the Colts defense that is highly valuable in today’s NFL game, a game of offenses trying to spread teams out and create mismatches.
“The thing that’s really good about Quincy, and even I underestimated it coming out, he’s really football smart,” Ballard said. “He played (four) different spots for us last year: cornerback, dime, nickel, safety. On game day, he becomes very valuable. He can go man-to-man on tight ends. That’s where these long cornerbacks become very valuable.”
Wilson isn’t worried about the competition, isn’t worried about the perception.
A career that was headed the wrong way turned around last season, and he’s spent just about every minute since then eliminating all of the things that derailed his first season and a half in the NFL.
“I feel confident, I feel like everything’s in order,” Wilson said. “I’m not out here worrying about, ‘Oh, I’m still not in shape, or I don’t know what they’re expecting from me, or anything like that. I know what it takes. I know what to expect.”
For the first time at an NFL training camp, Wilson is in control.