A SEASON FOR LEARNING

Antoine Bethea, a two-time Pro Bowl safety, in 2010 remained what he has been in recent seasons - a constant in the Colts' secondary. He said he may have learned more this season than in any of his previous four NFL seasons.

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Antoine Bethea Says Role Changed During Adversity-Filled 2010 Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Honestly, Antoine Bethea said he may not be the best judge.

Was 2010 his best season?

Bethea, who recently completed his fifth season with the Colts, said that may or not have been the case, but the durable, reliable safety said recently he does know this:

As far as experience gained? As far as lessons learned?

The season that just ended had more than its share of both.

"This is the year I probably learned more – just being in the situation we were in," Bethea said near the end of the 2010 season, a season in which the Colts won a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons and a season on which Colts.com will look back in the coming weeks.

The situation the Colts, Bethea and the entire secondary were in was this:

Injuries. Adversity.

An almost constantly-changing lineup.

The one constant in the Colts' secondary?

Bethea, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who was the only Colts defensive back to start every game this season.

And while Bethea often has been the constant in the secondary in recent seasons, he said considering the season the Colts just finished, it did end up being for him a different sort of year.

"With a lot of people shuffling in and out, I took on a different role," Bethea said. "Before, I would say I was a leader with some other guys back there.

"This year, there were just a lot of different guys coming in."

The Colts, after beginning the season with Bethea and Bob Sanders starting at safety alongside six-year veteran Kelvin Hayden and second-year veteran Jerraud Powers, started six different combinations in the secondary, with Melvin Bullit starting three games at safety and Aaron Francisco starting 12.

Powers started 10 games before being placed on injured reserve with four games remaining in the season, and Hayden started 11 before missing the final five games with a neck injury.

Justin Tryon, acquired in an early-season trade with the Washington Redskins, started six games at cornerback, and Jacob Lacey – a second-year veteran acquired as a rookie free agent before last season – started eight games at cornerback after missing four games earlier in the season.

"There were a lot of different guys coming in," Bethea said. "I felt I had to keep my composure a lot of times just to help the situation we were in, to help the other guys stepping in."

Not that Bethea said he spent time worrying about the situation, but he said at times it was difficult to comprehend the number of lineup changes.

"To be honest, I said that a few times in the year," Bethea said. "When we first started, it was one of those years where we thought this could be a year where we'd have a really, really deep secondary. One guy goes down, then another guy goes down.

"It just so happens that an injury here, an injury there, you're playing with guys that you really didn't expect to play with."

Bethea said at one point in the season, he and secondary coach Alan Williams realized during a practice that Bethea and two others were the only defensive backs present who had been with the team during training camp at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind., last August.

"It was one of those things, but I think we handled the situation well," Bethea said.

Bethea said the situation was handled by approaching it the way the Colts have approached similar situations in recent seasons – by not worrying about who wasn't in the lineup, but rather focusing on who was playing. The Colts finished the season 13th in the NFL in pass defense, and finished the season with 10 interceptions, with one of the most imant coming when Bethea intercepted David Garrard in the second half of a 34-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The play helped stop a Jacksonville drive at a time when the Jaguars were gaining momentum in a crucial December game at Lucas Oil Stadium. After the Colts held off a second-half rally, Indianapolis had control of the AFC South. They never relinquished that control, clinching a ninth consecutive playoff appearance with a 23-20 victory over Tennessee in the regular-season finale.

Bethea, as has been the case each of the last five seasons, was not only a starter during the post-season run, he was a critical, reliable player when needed. Bethea, who hasn't missed a start since the 2007 season and who has missed just five starts in his career, led the Colts in tackles and also finished with four quarterback pressures.

And while Bethea, a Pro Bowl safety following the 2007 and 2009 seasons, was not selected to the game this season, at least one rival coach considered that something of an injustice.

"I think he has every right to be disappointed," Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher said of Bethea. "I think he's a Pro Bowl safety. He's a complete safety. He makes plays on the ball, he's a tremendous open-field tackler and he's a very, very smart player."

As for Bethea, he said of his season, "I did some good things. Obviously, there are some things you could work on, but I felt like I had a pretty solid year."

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