Colts Safety Antoine Bethea: "For Me, It's Just Continuing to Get Better"
ANDERSON, Ind. – Antoine Bethea's not taking it easy. Far from it.
Because while Bethea, entering his fifth season with the Colts, said he can see why some might think a player in his situation could take that approach, the former Howard University safety said being low-key and satisfied just isn't in his nature.
He didn't make it to the NFL being satisfied.
And he didn't make it to two Pro Bowls being that way, either.
So, he said, why start now?
"There's always going to be something different each year, year in and year out," Bethea said recently during 2010 Colts Training Camp, which continued Monday with a pair of practices at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind.
"I think for me it's just continuing to get better. Every year, you never want to be able to say you leveled off. If you feel you're leveling off, you're looking your way out of the league.
"So, the idea is to continue to get better, continue to get more knowledge of the game – everything."
That approach has worked for Bethea for four years. In a big way.
Bethea, a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, long has been one of the premier players on the Colts' defense. His quick favorable impression upon arriving for his first mini-camp is a favorite story of Colts President Bill Polian and then-Head Coach Tony Dungy, and he just as quickly established himself as a starter, moving into the lineup as a rookie and staying there since.
In recent seasons, Bethea has been more than good for the Colts – and he has been something more imant, too.
He has been reliable.
And while starters such as former cornerback Marlin Jackson, current cornerback Kelvin Hayden and two-time Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders have missed significant time the past two seasons with injuries, the opposite has been true of Bethea.
He set a goal two seasons ago of being reliable, of playing all 16 regular-season games.
He reached the goal in 2008. And in 2009, he did it again.
Bethea, after starting 27 of 32 possible games in his first two seasons, has started every game for the Colts the past two seasons – 32 in the regular season and four in the post-season, and last season, he turned in perhaps the best of his four NFL seasons.
"Bethea has been extremely important and extremely durable – and not only just durable, but he has been a great performer as well," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "He has done a tremendous job, I think, of covering the field and taking care of his responsibilities. He has done a great job in terms of supporting the run.
"He also is a very physical tackler. We're pleased to have him back, and obviously doing well."
Bethea before last season said he was disappointed with some aspects of his 2008 season, that he made too many mistakes that season on a few critical plays. His objective, he said, was to improve in that area, and he said after the season he did that, making the Pro Bowl for a second time in three seasons.
Bethea not only was the only player in the Colts' secondary to start every game, he also led the Colts in tackles with 120 while also leading the team with four interceptions. He also had four passes defensed and a quarterback pressure.
This season, Bethea's presence – along with the return of Sanders and the continued development of fourth-year veteran Melvin Bullitt – "provides an opportunity to have three top quality safeties," Caldwell said.
Bethea in the off-season signed a contract extension, after which he returned to the Colts along with Sanders and Hayden as one of a trio of veterans in an otherwise young unit. Aside from the aforementioned trio, the lone player in the secondary with more than two years NFL experience is 13-year veteran Deshea Townsend, signed last week as a free agent after spending his entire career with Pittsburgh.
"In the secondary, especially, we're young," Bethea said. "Bob's in his seventh year, Kelvin's in his sixth and I'm in my fifth. We've got Deshea, but it's his first year with us. We're a young group, so for those young guys to look at me, Kelvin and Bob, that's something I cherish."
Bethea said he looks at the NFL from a slightly changed perspective now. In 2007, he, Sanders, Jackson and Bethea were one of the NFL's top young secondaries, and they talked the following off-season of wanting to emerge as one of the NFL's elite groups. Now, Bethea said such talk is for others.
"In the past, it's been one guy down and that guy come back then another guy goes down," Bethea said. "Our main focus this year is we end with everybody healthy. We don't really have to say how good we can be if everybody's healthy. Our main goal is to keep everybody healthy. The other stuff will control itself."
That, Bethea said, is why at its core, his goal hasn't changed much. Yes, a Super Bowl appearance is one obvious goal, and there are individual objectives as well. But mostly, Bethea said his focus will remain on being able to play as well and as often as possible.
"It's the same thing," Bethea said. "I want to play all 16 games, the post-season and be a leader for the younger guys and be that person where if somebody's having a problem, they can look back and come to me.
"I want to stay strong all year and enhance my play."