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‘Z’ marks the spot for Colts’ secondary

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Indianapolis Colts safety Tom Zbikowski plays defense during the Colts' 23-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Indianapolis Colts safety Tom Zbikowski plays defense during the Colts' 23-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a certain aptness linked to a surname beginning with Z when the person has hands capable of knocking you out.

Tom Zbikowski wears several hats atop his tightly bristled scalp, Notre Dame graduate and starting strong safety in the NFL being among them.

Add to it a 4-0 record as a professional boxer, including a debut bout at Madison Square Garden in New York six years ago, and it’s clear there is more to the man than simply owning one of the two four-syllable last names (along with kicker Adam Vinatieri) on the Colts’ 53-man roster.

Zbikowski is eight games into his first season with Indianapolis Colts following four years in Baltimore, every one as a pupil of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, the Ravens’ secondary coach from 2008-10 and their defensive coordinator last season.

The Zbikowski file

Name: Tom Zbikowski

Job: Safety, Indianapolis Colts

Age: 27

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 215 pounds

Born: Park Ridge, Ill.

High school: Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, 2003

College: University of Notre Dame, 2008

Drafted: By the Baltimore Ravens in third round (86th overall) of 2008 NFL Draft

Did you know? Third-team All-American at Notre Dame on two occasions; has a 4-0 record as a professional boxer, the most recent being a first-round knockout in April 2011; finalist in 2007 for the Jim Thorpe Award, an honor given annually to the top defensive back in college football; two-time team captain at Notre Dame; was a three-year starter at quarterback and safety in high school.

His eight starts in blue are only six shy of the number he accumulated while donning purple. With 26 tackles, Zbikowski is set to have a career-season statistically, 29 being his previous high in 2009.

He’s also a valued member of the special teams.

“You have to be a little crazy, I’ll admit it,” Zbikowski said with a wry smile of his special-teams roles as both a runner and tackler. “A lot of it is feeling and having good timing.”

Zbikowski made his presence felt in Sunday’s 23-20 win against Miami with three tackles and two kick returns for an average of 26 yards.

He’s becoming increasingly comfortable fitting into a secondary that includes two-time Pro Bowl free safety Antoine Bethea and cornerbacks Vontae Davis (who sat out Sunday with a knee injury), Jerraud Powers and Cassius Vaughn.

“It’s still all so new. It takes time to blend together, which is why our communication in the secondary is so crucial,” Zbikowski said.

“The guys in the defensive backfield are very driven and very intelligent. We’ve got the ability to know where we mess up and where we need to get better.

“We also have the ability to let things go.”

A gift for selective amnesia is vital in an occupation where feelings and confidence levels run the risk of being damaged in front of millions of viewers.

What was once perceived a weakness, pass defense now is regarded a strength as the Colts rank 11th of the NFL’s 32 teams, allowing 221.5 yards per game.

The newness of what Zbikowski experiences in practice and games is not unusual in Indianapolis, given the wholesale changes to the roster during the offseason.

Davis was a Miami Dolphin at this time last season, while Vaughn played for Denver.

In fact, only three of the eight men on the secondary’s two-deep chart were Colts in 2011 (Bethea, Powers and reserve safety Joe Lefeged).

It’s why Zbikowski, a man known to dabble in the oldest form of pugilism, continues to fight the good fight.

The unit he helps lead is improving, which is why it felt so good to play an integral role in Sunday’s victory.

“That’s just where we’re headed, a fourth-quarter team,” Zbikowski said.

“In the second half, come out and make all the adjustments and keep getting better, not every single game (but) every single quarter, every single series. If one person goes down, someone else steps up.

“A trust is being built in the locker room.”

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