Persistency key to Colts’ Rashaan Melvin making a difference

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Colts' cornerback Rashaan Melvin grabs his first career interception early in the third quarter of the Colts game vs. the Browns. (WTTV September 24, 2017)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Rashaan Melvin could have quit, packed his bags and walked away from the NFL once, twice, five times.

Then, Sunday never would have happened.

He could have taken it personal when the New England Patriots twice told him he didn’t fit in their plays. Or when a similar message was delivered by the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Thanks, kid, but we’re going in a different direction.

Had Melvin listened – had he given in – he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help the Indianapolis Colts avoid an 0-3 start Sunday by snuffing out a pair of third-quarter drives with interceptions in a 31-28 win over the Cleveland Browns.

The interceptions were the first of his career, and ended a 29-game dry spell.

They served as a belated reward to Melvin’s tenacity.

“It’s about being persistent, believing in the journey,’’ the veteran cornerback said Monday. “For me, it was never that Rashaan Melvin wasn’t good enough to play in the league. ‘Rashaan Melvin, this team is not for you. Rashaan Melvin, you should think about giving up.’

“I’m still here because of my belief God has put me in place to make plays, to be in the NFL. My journey is not easy, my walk is not easy.’’

Melvin’s difficult journey – he signed with the Colts in September 2016, his sixth team in four seasons – isn’t unique to the roster general manager Chris Ballard is forming.

There are high-profile stars, to be sure: quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Frank Gore, placekicker Adam Vinatieri, cornerback Vontae Davis, rookie safety Malik Hooker, center Ryan Kelly.

But much of the heavy lifting is being done by Melvin and others who’ve had to deal with stiffer odds. The 53-man active roster includes 17 players who weren’t drafted. Tampa Bay signed Melvin, a Northern Illinois standout, the day after 254 players were selected in the 2013 NFL draft.

“It’s not about if you’re drafted or undrafted,’’ Melvin said. “Once you step in this locker room, your skillset is going to show.

“Other guys might get more opportunities, but once you get the opportunity to show what you can do, take advantage of it. That’s the beauty of being in the NFL.’’

That’s paramount to Ballard’s approach in building a championship roster. Talent lurks at every level of the draft, and outside of it.

“Look, the undrafted guys are, in my mind, no different than a draft pick,’’ Ballard said during the offseason. “They’re going to get the same opportunity and if they win the job, then we’ll move on from the other guy.

“You can’t preach competition and not live it.’’

When Ballard pared the 90-player preseason roster to 53, he parted ways with fourth-round offensive tackle Zach Banner and kept three undrafted rookies: center Deyshawn Bond, punter Rigoberto Sanchez and tight end Darrell Daniels.

Sunday against the Browns, six undrafted players were in the starting lineup: Melvin, Bond, left guard Jeremy Vujnovich, tight end Jack Doyle, safety Matthias Farley and wide receiver Kamar Aiken. Special teams also was an all-undrafted group with Vinatieri, Sanchez, long-snapper Luke Rhodes.

Along with Melvin’s two interceptions, the Colts benefitted from Doyle and Farley recovering onside kicks in the fourth quarter. Bond, the Warren Central High School product, has stepped in and started the first three games while Kelly recovers from a broken bone in his foot.

So many contributors made a difference because they refused to go quietly when a previous team released them. Since joining the Colts 13 months ago, he’s started 14 of 30 games.

“That’s part of the business, part of the NFL, part of life,’’ safety Darius Butler said. “It’s how you respond to adversity. It reveals character and we’ve got a lot of those guys in this room.

“There’s countless guys in this league who have done great things after being released.’’

Melvin’s tenacious approach was evident before he was shown the door by the Buccaneers, Patriots, Ravens and Dolphins. He walked on as a freshman at Northern Illinois in 2009 only to earn a scholarship the following season. He went on to start 27 of 41 games with the Huskies and generate six interceptions, 172 tackles and 35 passes defensed.

“It’s always harder for some people,’’ Melvin said. “That’s how life is today. Some people might have the easier steps, some people take the hard way. But at the end of the day, we all want to be successful people in life.

“I never took forward to quitting. That’s not who I am. Life has always been fight, fight, fight, fight and at the end of the day, something good is going to happen.

“It never crossed my mind I wasn’t good enough to play and not good enough to be in the NFL.’’

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