A Question-Answer Session with Colts Safety Melvin Bullitt
Safety Melvin Bullitt, a second-year NFL veteran, made the game-saving interception in the end zone during a 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday, but Bullitt has done more for the Colts this season than make one play. Since joining the team as an undrafted free agent from Texas A&M shortly after the 2007 NFL Draft, he has played behind Pro Bowl safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea, developing into one of the team's most valuable defensive reserves. Earlier this season, he replaced Sanders in the lineup for five games, and in nine games this season, he has 47 tackles – 29 solos – with a quarterback pressure, a team-high three interceptions and two passes defensed. He also has six special teams tackles. Bullitt this week took time to talk to Colts.com about the one-handed interception against the Steelers, contributing as a backup and developing his role on the defense.
Question: You discussed the one-handed, last-play, end-zone interception against the Steelers shortly after the game. You've seen it since on highlights. Did that give you a better idea what a key play it was?
Answer: Now that I've seen it, I realize how huge it was. On those plays, you always work on, 'Someone's in front and another person's behind.' You know the ball's going to try to get tipped. Defensively, you want to try to knock it down. You don't want it to be tipped. (Cornerback) Tim (Jennings) did a great job getting up in the air, but we weren't quite in the right defense. It maybe should have been a taller person right there or Tim should have been behind and I should have been in front trying to knock it down, but that's how it happened, so he tipped it up and I saw it in the air, up for grabs. I knew somebody in black was behind me. I just reached back and grabbed it. When I got home, I was watching TV and I was like, 'Dang. That was crazy.' It was one of those plays where it was a reach and he was standing there with his arms open, so . . .
Q: And that's a play where football instinct just kind of takes over . . .
A: There's no planning and no practicing for that. I was just blessed to be in the right place at the right time.
Q: But watching the way you play, that's really what your game's about. When it comes time to make a play, you make it.
A: That's what everyone does. Everyone on this level is a ballplayer. They want to go out and make the big play. If you ask me what's the best part of my game, I'd say, 'I don't know,' but I go out and try to do the best I can every play I'm out there.
Q: You've been in a situation since you came in where you've had to wait for opunities. Someone has to go down or there needs to be a different package used defensively. Has that been tough at times?
A: It's not (easy). But it starts from there. The cards didn't start rolling for me right from the start. Coming in as an undrafted free agent, that's always rough. I know how those guys feel when they come in. It always seems a little tougher that way. Then, you're sitting behind a Pro Bowler (Bob Sanders), a Future Hall of Famer, someone who's the (2007 Associated Press) Defensive Player of the Year . . . it's never going to be easy, but you learn a lot. I've learned so much just from watching him play every game. I try to model my game after him.
Q: Still, for an NFL player, sitting behind anyone isn't easy . . .
A: No, you always want to be a starter. That's why you come to the NFL. You don't want to come in and be a backup. You have to learn and you have to wait your time. You have to be patient, because anytime, an opportunity may come. Mine came this year, and I just wanted to go out and do the best I can and show people in the league I can play, too. I think I did that. I'm just looking forward to every game now. Lately, even with the situations we've had, I've still been getting playing time. I'm just having a good time now.
Q: As you prepared for this season, how much different was it than when you were approaching your rookie season? How much more prepared did you feel?
A: This season was a lot different. Last season, my whole focus was just making the team. Of course, when I made the 53-man roster I was excited. It was more like, 'OK, cool, I'm on the team. I'll just focus on special teams.' Or, 'I'll just focus on trying to dress.' But going into this season, there was a chance I'd get to play. I still don't feel I'm as ready as I could be. There are a lot of things I have to learn. I'm definitely at the point now where I can go in the game and feel like I can do a good job. There's so much I need to learn, but it's going to come with experience. Thankfully, I have guys in front of me like Antoine and Bob that are willing to let me know what to do in certain situations. It's a good situation to be in.
Q: Every year around the draft, Colts President Bill Polian and Head Coach Tony Dungy talk extensively about the value of undrafted free agents. You're sort of living proof of that philosophy panning out . . .
A: We have guys on the team – myself, (defensive tackle) Eric Foster, (defensive end) Curtis Johnson – the numbers go on and on. You never know, so you have to always keep trying and keep fighting, because you never know when you're number is going to get called. When it does, if you feel like you're that kind of player, go out there and show people you can do it. That's the kind of attitude you have to take.
Q: And in this organization, once you're here, you're not treated as an 'undrafted guy' compared to a 'drafted guy . . .'
A: When you come in here, from OTAs on, it's, 'Hey, when you're in, you're in.' It's not, 'Dang, I have an undrafted free agent guy covering our second-round draft pick.' It's, 'You're in. Cover him. Stop him.' That's what it's all about – focusing on that. I just like the fairness I've been shown since I've been in the NFL, being with this organization. I have friends on a lot of other teams, and from what I tell them and what they tell me, it's like night and day.
Q: How important have special teams been for you?
A: Oh, man. Special teams has been my gateway to get on the field on defense. That's how a lot of undrafted free agents make the team. What people don't realize is you have to be a true athlete to play on special teams. You can't be some slouch down there. You have to be one of the best athletes on the team to run 40-50 yards and make an open-field tackle. That's not easy at all. You have to want to do it. Thankfully, I'm in a position to do it. During the five weeks I was starting, I was still starting on special teams. That's something I'm not going to stop doing. I'll keep doing it as long as I'm here. If I need a quick breather, they'll give me one. But I'll be right back out there.
Q: Did you get the sense when you were starting the fans appreciated you? You sort of have become a fan favorite . . .
A: In my eyes, sometimes I'm an underdog. Everywhere I've been I've always been the lowest on the totem pole climbing up. I've always been the smallest. I didn't start growing until around my junior year of high school. I was around 5-feet-8 by junior year of high school. I just shot up to about 6-1, and from then on, I was still real thin. I committed early, at the end of my junior year, to Texas A&M, so the recruiting process stopped. I was blessed I already had a scholarship. I knew where I was going, but even when I was there, I was last on the depth chart. I showed them I could play. I played as a true freshman. Every year, I changed positions. I went from corner to free safety to strong safety to outside linebacker. I didn't even play safety my senior year. I played outside linebacker. I didn't really get a chance to show teams in the NFL what I could do, because I was always at the line of scrimmage.
Q: And yet even last season as a rookie, you never seemed surprise at what you were able to accomplish . . .
A: It's all motivation. It's all about a want-to. (Colts cornerback) Kelvin Hayden says it best. When guys talk about tackling, he says, 'It's not hard. Either you want to do it or you don't want to do it.' He says, 'Of course, you're going to miss some tackles, but when you want to tackle somebody, you'll tackle them.' It's the same with playing in the NFL. You have to show a want-to when you're out there. If you show any ounce of timidness or fear, it's going to overcome you. It's OK to be nervous when you go out there and play. I'm nervous before every game, but you get those jitters out and keep going.
Q: Your approach when Bob got hurt was very impressive. You said, 'I'm not going to be Bob Sanders, but I am going to be Melvin Bullitt . . .'
A: I said, 'I'm not going to be Bob Sanders. Bob is down. I'm going to go be me. I'm going to make plays. There are going to be times when you're going to like what I do and there are going to be some mistakes made, but I'm going to go out there and do the best I can.'
Q: Now, even with Bob back, you've managed to keep your own role and identity. You've been able to contribute . . .
A: It's unfortunate the way we've had certain guys go down: Marlin Jackson, one of the hardest-workers on the team, and with Kelvin being injured . . . but it's like coach says, 'One guy goes down, it doesn't matter who it is, the next person has to step up.' Those guys play corner. I play safety. But I was the next guy. I don't know any other way to put it: 'Next Man Up,' corner to safety. If you're the next man, you have to get up. So, it's a great situation.