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INDIANAPOLIS As much as the Combine testing traits wowed the Colts, Nick Cross is a guy who the staff believes can handle the immense mental responsibility that comes with being the final line of defense.

And that makes sense when you realize how out of the box move it was by Chris Ballard to trade back into the third round, in selecting Cross, back in April.

“Nick was one of those guys who had unique traits,” former Colts area scout Mike Derice, who took a job in the Giants scouting department following the draft, says. “He’s 6-1, 215 pounds and has incredible range and ball skills. And was also physical at contact. And that’s a hard combination to have at the safety position because there are some guys who are great ball skills and not-so-great tacklers. There are guys who are great tackles who are limited in coverage. So Nick can do everything we want in the back end. He can play free (safety) and strong interchangeably. So that was what makes him pretty special.

“He’s 20, 21 years old almost. Not a lot of football experience as a starter, I think (can be) in a year and a half. But traits were off the charts and so intelligent as a football player.”

With the news of Khari Willis retiring, the selection of Cross has taken on even more of a ‘we might need you now’ onus.

The arrival of Gus Bradley has changed some of the responsibilities now asked of various defensive positions.

Safety is near the top of that list.

Willis’ decision has opened up a starting job next to Julian Blackmon.

Ideally, that new safety starter would have more of a physical presence to go along with the ball-hungry Blackmon, who looks like a guy that will be in the starting lineup Week 1, despite tearing his Achilles last October.

Cross will have an opportunity to earn that job, with veteran Rodney McLeod (123 career starts) also very much in the running.

On the night following that surprising trade up for Cross, Derice shared his thoughts on the development it would take for the Maryland product.

“I don’t think it will take as much time,” Derice said. “I mean, he’s a really good football player. I was shocked that he was still there.”

As were the Colts, who now would love to see the 20-year-old Cross advance some of that growth in case they do need him to start from Day 1.