Year Studying Sanders Helped His Development, Bullitt Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Melvin Bullitt sees it, his timing couldn't have been better.
Bullitt, a second-year Colts safety who may make his first NFL start Sunday said if that opunity had come a year ago, he wouldn't have been as ready as he feels now. He wasn't quite as mature, he said, nor as accustomed to the ways of the NFL as he is now.
And he had another benefit, too, he said.
He spent last year watching safety Bob Sanders play.
And he said no way did that hurt.
"Just the mental reps from watching a guy like Bob . . ." Bullitt said this week as the Colts (1-1) prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) in a crucial, early-season AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"With him especially having the best season he has had since he has been here, that definitely helped me a lot. I just have to run and tackle and I feel like I'll be all right. . . .
"I can't even tell you if I'm going to start yet. If I go out there and they say, 'Bullitt you're in,' I guess I'm in."
Bullitt, who signed with the Colts as a free agent shortly after the 2007 NFL Draft, could make his first NFL start on Sunday in place of Sanders, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week.
Sanders sustained an ankle injury against Minnesota Sunday.
"Melvin is an outstanding special teams player and he is an outstanding safety," Dungy said. "He will be fine. If Bob is out for a little bit, we have every confidence that Melvin can step in and do a great job."
Bullitt, who played collegiately at Texas A&M, played in 15 games last season, making 14 tackles on defense, and intercepting a pass. He has played in each of the Colts' two games this season, registering three tackles, including one solo.
With Sanders out in the fourth quarter this past Sunday, Bullitt replaced him and with the Vikings facing 3rd-and-3 from their 9 with 1:30 remaining, Bullitt tackled Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi for a five-yard loss. The play forced a punt that led to the Colts' game-winning drive.
"He made a couple of key plays, as he always does," Colts President Bill Polian said. "Whenever Melvin Bullitt is in the game, he shows up. That's all you need to know. He's a good tackler. He's fast. He's aggressive. He's a tuned-in guy. Very smart. A hard worker. He's everything you want in a safety. Melvin's a tough guy.
"He has athleticism and he's smart. He's learning his game and he'll do a good job."
That learning process, Dungy and Bullitt each said, has been helped by the circumstances under which he has practiced through much of his time with the Colts.
Sanders since the beginning of last season typically has not practiced on Thursdays during the regular season to rest. Bullitt throughout much of that time – and so far this season – has worked on Thursdays with the first team.
"He gets an advantage because we hold Bob out on Thursdays in practice, so Melvin does get to practice and that really helps him," Dungy said. "He came in and played well (Sunday) and gave us a lift."
Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2007 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, has been a crucial part of the Colts' defense in recent seasons. In 2005, when Sanders played 13 games and made his first Pro Bowl, the Colts finished 11th in the NFL in total defense and second in points allowed. In 2007, when he made his second Pro Bowl and played 15 games, the Colts finished second in total defense and first in points allowed.
In 2006, when Sanders missed 12 games, the Colts finished 21st in total defense, 32nd against the run, making their Super Bowl run when he returned for all four playoff games.
Bullitt said he doesn't expect replacing Sanders will be easy, but said "I feel like I'm prepared."
"Of course, it's always hard to replace a player like Bob," Bullitt said. "In my opinion, he's the best safety in the league, so I'm just going to go out there and do the best I can. That's all I can do.
"I'm going to go out there and be me. I'm going to the ball and I'm going to play as hard as I can every play. Bob, he's an amazing player. There are things he can do that I can't do, so I'm going to go out there and do what I can do. . . .
"We have 10 other guys who can really run to the ball. It's not going to be one person who's going to win the game for us. It's going to be a whole defensive effort. We go out and do our part and I feel like we'll be fine. I'm going to go out there and do my 1/11th and we'll be all right."
Bullitt, who played extensively in three of the last five games last season when Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea missed three games with an injury, said he believes the chance to play from the beginning of the game will help him.
"There's a big difference between coming into a game in the second or third quarter and starting a game," Bullitt said. "You sort of get a feeling for how a quarterback's on his cadence and things like that. I feel like I'll do a little better."
Even before Sanders' injury, Bullitt said this season had a far different feel than last season. And he said it's because of that feel – as much as the chance to watch Sanders for a year – that he believes he is prepared for his opportunity.
"I have a little bit more experience," Bullitt said. "Last year, I was more just happy to be here and trying to do everything I could on special teams. Now, I know that any play I could be in the game. There's a lot more seriousness in me. I know what it's like to be a professional.
"You can't be a rookie forever. There's a time to grow up. My opportunity's coming up this week. I've got to go out there and do the best I can."