ANDERSON –Players selected in an NFL draft have a typical career span of about seven to eight years.
Antoine Bethea today will wind up his seventh training camp, and he has gone through these grueling sessions now under three head coaches, three different coordinators, at two different sites and with a countless number of teammates.
Having spanned Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell to Chuck Pagano, Ron Meeks to Larry Coyer to Greg Manusky and from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to Anderson University, Bethea knows a good camp when he sees it.
He says the 2012 version of the season-preparatory meat-grinder has been good.
"I think we have come a long way being that it's a totally different scheme than most of us have played in," said Bethea. "Robert (Mathis), Free (Dwight Freeney are) standing up. Defensive backs (are playing) more man (coverage). It's a lot of different things that this defense has overcome.
"I think the coaches have put an installment in so we can really hone in on the defense. The more we play with one another, the better we'll be."
Bethea, Mathis and Freeney have been through many battles together, twice playing for world championships. All three are undergoing a learning process as the team installs a hybrid 3-4 defense for 2012.
Gone are the old principles of the Cover-2. In is a more attacking mode that is aiming to create havoc in the style of the Baltimore Ravens, where Pagano served for the past four years.
While Bethea may have a number of new teammates, he feels a little new, too. He is adapting to the scheme, and he sees a number of younger players doing it, too.
"I think guys have had their heads on straight. For me, I'm learning the defense just like the rookies are learning it," said Bethea. "We're all just taking it in stride. Guys have different learning curves. If you see a guy struggling here or there, you most definitely pull him aside and help him. For the most part, guys have their heads on straight and are getting the work done."
The team had a rousing start to preseason last Sunday with a 38-3 home victory over St. Louis. The defense allowed no touchdowns, and the Rams' only score was aided by a 54-yard pass interference penalty. That red zone penetration was halted by a sack that forced the field goal.
The Colts were never threatened, forced two turnovers and allowed only 68 yards on the ground. It was a nice first outing in a new scheme, and Bethea noticed something from the outcome.
"That if we do the little things right and practice hard that we can go out and have a good showing," said Bethea of what he observed last Sunday. "At the same time, we want to build on that, correct the mistakes we made in the game and build and become a better team."
The team had a smoother camp this year than if last year's off-season format had been in place. A year ago with the lockout, players could not work on-site in preparation for the season. This year, players were around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center regularly, and the coaches were able to introduce the scheme on a repetitive basis.
The work done in the spring eased the rigors of the 26 practices held in Anderson.
"In the spring, that's when we got a lot of the grinding and a lot of grit of the information," said Bethea. "For us to be able to come here to Anderson and be at 'install one,' which is really our third time seeing it, it really helped the guys out. It made camp much smoother."
Following the win over St. Louis, Pagano urged the players not to get so caught up in the success that it would affect practices this week. Work on Tuesday was uneven in parts, but players seem to have listened to Pagano's instruction.
Bethea knows every time on the field is a time to be measured for progress or regression.
"This is week-to-week. You have to earn you paycheck every time," said Bethea. "We had a good first showing, and we want to build on that. You don't want to pat yourself on the back too soon. It's a long season, and we have to get better."
As for returning home on Friday before a trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, Bethea is ready to get back to usual surroundings. One of the more mannered and classy Colts players, Bethea always has appreciated the touches camp hosts have made for the team – both in Anderson and Terre Haute – but he knows everyone agrees that home is, well, home.
"I am ready to get back home, get back in my bed," said Bethea. "Anderson, they treat us good here. They show us some great hospitality, but I'm ready to get back to Indy."