A Question-Answer Session with Colts Safety Antoine Bethea
Safety Antoine Bethea, a third-year NFL veteran, was a Pro Bowl selection following the 2007 season, and is the only player in the Colts' secondary to start every game this season. A sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from Howard University, Bethea has been one of the team's most durable, productive players the past three seasons, and has emerged as one of the top young players in the NFL at his position. The team's sixth-leading tackler a year ago, he is second in the category this season with 69 tackles and 42 solos. He also has one interception after having four last season. This week, Bethea sat down with Colts.com to discuss his maturation process, the pride he takes in his pass-coverage ability and just what he learned at the Pro Bowl last February.
Question: You were a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, and for the past two seasons, you were considered a "young," up-and-coming player. How has that changed? In Year 3 you're not necessarily a "young" player anymore.
A: Not really. The third year is when you start calling yourself a young veteran. I feel as though I've been able to take a lot of snaps back there, so as far as playing-wise, I feel a lot more comfortable out there. I'm seeing things clearly.
Q: When it comes to the Colts' secondary, for a lot of people the image is safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But you've been on the field a lot in recent seasons without Bob. Has that helped you become more of a leader?
A: I think this year I've become a lot more vocal on the field and off the field – just like in meeting rooms . . . I've just become more vocal. Bob is the player he is, a great player, but sometimes he's not out there and I think it's my responsibility to step up and try to take that leadership role.
Q: The Colts have had a lot of injuries at cornerback in recent weeks, and last week, there were times when they played four safeties: yourself, Bob, Matt Giordano and Melvin Bullitt. When you first arrived here, there was talk of you playing corner. How much pride do you take in being able to play in coverage on a wide receiver if needed?
A: At the end of the day, I'm the same player. I feel like wherever they need help, I can play. There have been a couple of times when the defensive backfield coach told me, 'You may need to play some corner.' I go out there and play some corner. With (cornerback) Marlin (Jackson) going down, that's a big loss for us, but I moved to nickel position and I feel like I have to get the job done. I feel I can do it. I feel like I'm capable of doing it, so it's something I have to do. When the coaches see you're able to do that, that makes you feel good, knowing they have the confidence in you. I can play safety. I can come off the hash and at the same time, I can come cover a tight end or cover a legitimate wide receiver.
Q: The secondary as a unit is a very tight-knit bunch with yourself, Bob, Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson in your second season as a starting unit. How have the injuries in the secondary changed the approach this season?
A: At the beginning of the year, we felt like we could come in and be one of the best units in the league. The injuries have hit this year. At one point, Bob was out. Kelvin was out. Now, Marlin's out for the season. Now, we're at the point in time where the next guy has to step up and as a unit, we have to bond together just because you have some starters out. But it's like (Colts Head) Coach (Tony) Dungy always says, 'Whoever's the next guy in line has to come in and step up and have there be no falloff.' I think that's one thing we've done. Then again, when you're missing some of your key players, I think the rest of the guys have to step up. Everybody who's playing tends to focus in more. That was a big key for us this past game against New England. Everybody was focusing in on their details and realizing the task at hand and what we needed to do. I think that helped us out a lot in the game.
Q: You're the only starter in the secondary who has played every game this season . . .
A: Like I said, I think that just plays a part of becoming a vocal leader. When I'm out there, whoever I'm out there with, I still have to communicate the same calls as if somebody else is in there. It's just being able to communicate with everybody and having that understanding with everybody, knowing that we're out here to get a job done and that you can count on me and I can count on you.
Q: Has this been as tough a season as you've had in the NFL? The defense really has had to deal with a lot . . .
A: In the first few years, I know we've dealt with injuries and stuff like that, but just the way the injuries have come – with having Kelvin and Bob out the same time, then just having both of your starting corners out at the same time . . . in the past, you maybe had one guy out, but I don't think we ever had two guys out for a long time. It's tough, but injuries are part of the game and that's one reason we've excelled, because no matter what, we've continued to fight hard and continued to play hard. We don't have a lot of excuses.
Q: You're in your third year. Where have you improved since your rookie season?
A: I can continue to say it, but just being vocal. My rookie year, I was just trying to feel my way through, not really knowing what my responsibility was on this defense. I was just really playing deep safety: 'Don't get beat deep, make a tackle.' Now, I feel as though I'm mature enough that I can get out there and talk more, help (middle linebacker and defensive captain) Gary (Brackett) out a little more with some of the calls. I feel I'm more mature as a player and as a professional. I've gotten a lot better in that way from my first year to my third year.
Q: You went to the Pro Bowl in your second season. People think of that as a reward and mini-vacation, but you also get to spend a week around the NFL's best players. What did you learn in Honolulu last February?
A: I learned a lot from guys like (Baltimore Ravens safety) Ed Reed – guys like Reed and (former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos safety) John Lynch. Even out there, how they approach the game and the knowledge they have of the game . . . at some point in time in my career, I want to be able to have that knowledge of the game, know what's going on out there at all times and be able to one day sit down a young safety and just tell them the dos and don'ts of the position and of being a professional. Going out there was a blessing, but at the same time, you can take a lot from that.
Q: A young player really does come back different from there, doesn't he?
A: Of course. Especially with it being my second year. You're in awe, because they're all great players out there, but you do come back different and you realize, 'Next year, I have something to play for. I want to be back over there.'
Q: Specifically, what did you learn from Reed? He's a former Defensive Player of the Year, as is your backfield mate . . .
A: Really, just the respect he has for the other players he has on the field with him. He was telling me about (Ravens safety Dawan) Landry. It was his third year and he was talking about how he could get better. He was just telling me how Bob and I complement each other. It was just interesting to sit down and talk with other people who play the position and figure out what they're thinking and where they're coming from playing the same position that you play.
Q: As you move forward this season, what are the goals? Just to be more of a leader?
A: When you get comfortable on the football field, that can skyrocket a player's ability. I'm not saying I wasn't comfortable last year, but when you're totally comfortable, your play can elevate. Then you can elevate other people around you and they play better. When you start to show that leadership role, other players tend to gravitate to you and look up to you. That's what I want to do. I want to be a person that somebody can come talk to, on and off the field about football or not about football. I just want to become a leader.