INDIANAPOLIS – Antoine Bethea made a big splash in a hurry.
A sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft, Bethea was the 207th player selected overall. He was coming out of Howard University, a school with a proud heritage but without a massive number of alumni who made it to the NFL.
At a rookie camp a week after the draft, then Colts President Bill Polian and Head Coach Tony Dungy smiled at each other when they observed Bethea in his first practice. Polian and Dungy knew they had a keeper.
Bethea has opened all 83 of his career appearances since then, earning Pro Bowl nominations in 2007 and 2009 and serving as a mainstay on a defense hit hard by injuries in 2011. Bethea maintains a corner spot in the locker room that fills quickly when media members are present. His words carry as much impact as his hits, but he delivers his words much more quietly.
Bethea bucked up this week as he always does by helping represent the defense in the locker room. He knows the defense is working through challenges, one of which is creating turnovers. He acknowledges what must be done.
"Just continue to run to the ball, maybe get a ball or two to pop out," said Bethea. "We need to do the regular things we talk about, just run to the ball, hustle to the ball and maybe we'll get some turnovers. We have to get out of it (turnover drought) sooner or later. Five games with no turnovers, that's in the past. All we can do now is try to focus on getting some turnovers. Like I said, fly to the ball, run to the ball, force some fumbles, try to get good jumps on the quarterback and when the opportunity comes, just try to make the play. It is what it is."
Bethea is one of the last lines of defense for Indianapolis, and he must make plays all over the field. He has seen the club hold four opponents under a 4.0 rushing average, while in four other games the team has struggled. He is sure the team can thrive when it tends to its assignments.
"We're running the same things," said Bethea. "When the run does get out, it's just a missed tackle or somebody out of their gap. Like we always say, we just have to stay consistent and play Colts ball. When we do that, the runs, we stop them. Everything is frustrating right now, we just have to keep playing."
The team still is searching for its first win. Bethea takes a positive approach and sees the same from teammates.
"We're 0-8, it's the second half of the season and we're trying to get our first win," said Bethea. "Hopefully, things can turn around for us. We're playing hard, nobody is pointing fingers, we're still in it together. That's a positive thing. I think we can build on that. It's always a plus when you can walk out there and play a game. It's always an opportunity to win – any given Sunday. We're going to go out and play. There are opportunities to make plays.
"I think out of every situation, you have to look at the negatives and the positives. A lot of young players have played. A lot of experience has been gained by those young players. Pat (Angerer) has stepped in and done a great job, and you find out what type of people you have in the locker room. That's the most important thing. When you're winning, it's very easy to come to work, very easy to go out there and practice hard and have fun. In slumps like this, you realize what type of people and teammates you have, coaches, the whole organization. Guys come in every day, work hard and practice hard. There are no excuses. I think you can really build off that as far as team camaraderie and things of that nature."
In times of adversity, teammates need to rely on each other. That reliance is one of the most important things a team can have, and Bethea says guys are doing that.
"Each other," said Bethea of who players are leaning on. "That's the best thing to do, just lean on each other. We're out there, we're fighting, we're playing the game with each other. In this locker room, we all count on one another. We all hold each other accountable. It's frustrating, but we're still in it together. We're still fighting. Eventually, we will get this win. At the end of the day, we're still blessed to have this opportunity to go out and play. It's frustrating being 0-8. We've had some good times here. We're going to get a win. Once we get the win, things will turn over for us. The leaders have to lead. The followers follow. We have a good group of leaders here and we'll turn this thing around."
Bethea and his secondary mates have a tough assignment Sunday with Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. Bethea regards Gonzalez highly, and he likes a challenge of facing on of the game's greats.
"He's (Gonzalez) a vet, very crafty," said Bethea. "He may not have the speed as he did once before, but he's still a crafty vet. He makes some big catches. We have to stop him. If not stop him, at least slow him down. He's a future Hall-of-Famer. He's going to make some catches in a game. As a safety possibly playing some man-on-man coverage, that's what you're looking for – to be able to go up against one of the best tight ends in the game. It's going to be some good competition.
"As a competitor and a player, you have to (love it). You want to go up against the top players in their respective positions. Tony Gonzalez, he's that. Matt Ryan, he's that. Roddy White, he's that. It's a big challenge for the defense, but I think we're ready for that. I think it would be a good week to get out first win."
Some observers are quick to question if players can stick together during a rough season. Bethea knows the kinship involved with teammates, and those are unique relationships.
"It's just like off the field with your family," said Bethea. "With one of your family members going through something, they lean on each other to get through that. Here, that's what we're doing – leaning on each other to get through this tough time. Everybody knows it's a tough time. It's an unusual spot for this organization. We're learning a lot about ourselves, about each other. We're sticking in here together."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK (QUOTE-UNQUOTE): Jim Caldwell(on QB-Curtis Painter's growth) "I see him certainly a bit more confident and a lot more comfortable with what we're doing. I see that increasing on a daily basis not only on the field of play on Sundays, but also during the course of practice as well. He's working extremely hard at it and getting the necessary reps to improve. I think you'll just continue to see him make some steps toward growth and maturity as time goes on." Caldwell(on QB-Curtis Painter's character) "I think he's probably one of those guys that's got real good focus, real level-headed, doesn't get rattled and is a real hard-worker. He cares about it passionately. You can see it in the meeting rooms. You can see it in terms of the language of how he carries himself out on the field. I think you will see it just continue to carry over during the course of the season, because he didn't get down when he wasn't starting. He worked, he helped whoever was in the position as the starter, Kerry (Collins) at that particular time. He's been a very patient individual that I think has taken advantage of the opportunity that he has." Caldwell(on defensive struggles allowing points at end of first halves this season) "I wouldn't say its fatigue. It's just a matter of execution down the stretch. We had the one that was really of note versus Kansas City. They brought it down in a 1:09 or so to put some points on the board. We've had a few of those that have occurred against us. That (stopping teams at the end of the half), I think, is just a matter of making certain that we get guys on the ground, we don't let them continue to convert third downs, which has been one of our issues. I think you'll see that come to an end. We just have to be able to really perform a little bit better down the stretch at the end of those halves." Caldwell(on locker room leadership) "I think it is something that's extremely important, whether you're winning or losing. Oftentimes it's tough to keep streaks going when you're winning if you don't have leadership, because what happens to you is that guys all of a sudden think that, 'Hey, I don't have to work nearly as hard, it doesn't take as much effort, we've got things going and this is going to be easy.' You need veteran leadership to kind of set the tone in that regard. On the other end of that when you face a lot of adversity, that's a very necessary and needed ingredient. You have to have those guys that understand what it's all about, that are still very, very steady, there aren't a whole lot of highs and lows and they can stay focused. I think, particularly in times of adversity, it's even more crucial." Caldwell(on taking ownership of struggles) "Yeah, you can't avoid it. That's one of the things that are certainly an important step to making improvement. You've got to face it. You can't hide from it. You can't turn your back on it. You can't ignore it and act as if it isn't happening. You've got to face it. Now, we've got to look at, 'OK, what are our problems? How do we work our way out of it?' Then you can start to make some headway. We don't allow anybody to act as if it's not occurring." Caldwell(on the play of the offensive line) "I think the guys that are working with them in the trenches have done a good job, just in terms of making certain that we're doing the things that they do well. I think Jeff (Saturday) in the middle is kind of a steady influence with the rest of the guys, and he kind of gets everybody sort of headed in the right direction. Obviously, I think Pete Metzelaars and Ron Prince do a nice job with those guys. They've been able to hang in there, and, obviously, give the backs some creases to run in and it's been pretty productive." Caldwell(on calm sideline demeanor) "I am who I am. I get upset, but I don't get upset necessarily in the way in which folks would think, the way in which they may get upset. I think, without question, they (the fans) are certainly entitled to their opinion in that regard. I've been coaching a long time. This game is how I make my living. This game means a lot to me, but I don't necessarily have to (get visibly upset). I think it was an old saying that says, 'Don't mistake activity for achievement', a John Wooden statement. But yeah, we get upset, but we just don't (show it on the sidelines.) One of the things that we've found is that oftentimes when you get that rollercoaster ride, it's a trickle-down effect (beyond the coaching staff). That's the reason. My demeanor was the same when we were rolling well, when we were 8-0, 9-0 and 10-0, and obviously, it hasn't changed a whole lot during this stretch as well." Caldwell(on team's confidence level) "I'm around these guys enough and often enough to kind of see where they are, and have a sense of where they are. There's frustration, but the guys keep fighting and keep playing hard. I think you look at our defense, and our defense played pretty confidently during the course of this last ballgame. They hustled, they knocked them around and they punted the ball, I think, eight times in the ballgame. So there were some good things there. What we've got to do is just continue to build upon those good things, point those things out, and then correct our problems and where our problems lie. I think that's how you continue to progress, and that builds confidence. Repetition of doing things well consistently will bread confidence, and I think we'll be able to develop that. We certainly have it going in certain areas. We're running the ball a little bit better all the time. Obviously, I think our defense really stepped up, and we're stopping the run a little bit better." Adam Vinatieri(on taking ownership of struggles) "You do. You have to take ownership, collectively and individually. What we've put on the field thus far is not good enough. It's individually doing your job better, and doing it collectively as a team. If everybody does a little bit better as a team, we play better. Hopefully, we win games at that point." Vinatieri(on brotherhood among players) "It's the same reason you don't give up on your family at home. We don't all have the same last name, but we all put on the same jersey. It really is that way. We care about each other as much as we care about us. That's what makes this team, and sports in general, so great. It's more than just yourself. You look across the locker room and you want to support them, and you want them to do the same for you. That's probably one of the greatest things about sports, the camaraderie and that brotherhood that you develop with guys." Dallas Clark(on facing Atlanta defense) "Just staying consistent (is important). They don't blitz a whole lot, so we should be able to know where they're going to be. They just came off a bye week, so you never know if they're going to dial something up. You always have to be aware of that. (They're) a team that tries to out-fundamental you. They have great athletes at every position. They just try to make more plays than you. They're fast. They fly to the ball. It's going to be great competition." Clark(on QB-Curtis Painter) "Confidence, experience and just being out there and seeing things (are big in his development). It's one thing seeing things in the film room but going out there and seeing it live, under duress and pressure, that's huge. You can't get that in practice. It's something you have to experience. He's had some ups and downs, but he's done a tremendous job of staying level-headed and confident in himself. We will never lose confidence in him. He's done great job. He will continue to improve and do a great job for us." Jeff Saturday(on 4-5 key plays in games not going Colts way) "That's exactly right. We haven't done well when those five stack up. The reality is, it's a lot of mistakes we're making. There are times we're making errors we shouldn't make, we're turning the ball over, giving up sacks at inopportune times, penalties have set us back. We're doing a lot of things that set you back and put you back behind the eight ball. It's hard to get first downs when you're in those situations. That's what we have to do to keep drives alive."
Saturday(on playing at home) "The support is huge. On offense you don't want them loud, you want them quiet. When our defense is on the field, make it as loud as it can possibly be. Stay interested in the game and what we're doing. All of our fans, they've been great. I've seen them all over the city. Everybody (says), 'We still bleed blue. We still support you guys.' We haven't had any fans turn their back, and I appreciate that. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. (I am) looking forward to getting back with our fans, and getting a little bit of an advantage on our side." Saturday(on a win taking pressure off the team) "A win cures so many ills. You can have the exact, same errors and come back and win that game and you'd forget about most of them (mistakes). Even when you win games, they're not perfect. There's a lot of mistakes you make the other team could have taken advantage of that (they) sometimes don't. When you lose, everything is magnified. That's the way of the game. That's the way of the NFL. You get a couple of wins, all the sudden those mistakes aren't as glaring as they are right now." Jamaal Anderson(on what Colts can expect from Atlanta) "They're going to do a lot of no huddle and a lot of 'check with me,' similar to what Peyton Manning did here. I think we'll be pretty comfortable getting used to it. The main thing is not jumping offsides, because they're going to do a lot of false cadence. They're pretty equal as far as running and passing the ball, so we're going to have to do a good job of stopping both." Dwight Freeney(on five games without turnovers) "This is the way takeaways normally happen. For us the way it's been, it's been a caused fumble, sack-fumble. That means the quarterback has to hold onto the ball. If he's throwing the ball quick, that's not going to happen. If the quarterback has to throw off his back leg, interception, throw it up. Once again, if it's quick, conservative, safe passes, that hasn't happened. Other than that, it would be causing a fumble with a running back. That's kind of happened, but they've been recovering the ball. It's not easy. If you don't have situations and they have leads, they're not taking any chances. They're not going to hold onto the ball. They know who they're playing against. They understand, I think me and Robert (Mathis) have led the league over the years in causing turnovers. The best way to neutralize that is getting rid of the ball. Teams have been doing a good job. We just have to find a way to counteract that."
Freeney(on Atlanta QB-Matt Ryan) "I think (Matt) Ryan does a good job with the scheme he's in. He understands when to take chances. He has a great deep ball. They do a lot of different things off play-action. They run the ball pretty well. It's not just like him going out there (and) slinging it. It's play-action and all the sudden you have 'backers and everybody's playing for the play-action (then) deep ball off the boot, because you have to commit to the run with a great running back. He does a great job." Robert Mathis(on brotherhood of teammates) "I don't understand that (outside talk about not trying to win). Quit? Seriously, really? This is what you get paid for, this is your job. That's first off. (If) you come in here and quit, you're going to be gone, and the guy who brought you in is going to be gone. It's (the brotherhood) greater than one player. You're blessed to be in the position to have a job (like this). If that's not enough to motivate you to do your job, I don't know what is. We've been fighting and scratching together for too long to just give up on each other. We're in it together. We've won a Super Bowl together. We win together, we lose together. We play together." Pat Angerer(on being tired of losing) "You hate losing more than you love winning. I think that's the truth. It (stinks), especially when you work so hard. Everybody in here works real hard. Everybody in here cares and everybody in here fights. It's tough. We have a good group of guys. We're just not getting it done. We're going to keep working." Gary Brackett(on if Tampa-2 still works) "I think it still works. Every coverage you play is based on attacking. Cover-2, they throw the ball on checkdowns, and we haven't been able to get our fair share of turnovers. I think the defense works. It's a matter that we have to execute." Jerraud Powers(on being able to play right away) "You've got to play. The NFL is not like college where you can come in and redshirt, especially not here. They don't do that. They expect the young guys to come in and play, and play early." Powers(on league being what have you done lately and fan reaction to season)
"I guess you can say that. It's definitely a cut-throat league. You know that coming into this business, though. That's the business side of it. From the fans' standpoint, they expect us to win, no matter what the situation is. You can't get mad at them for responding the way they are responding. They expect us to win, and we expect to win. We're not going out there thinking, 'We're going to lose this game.' We're doing whatever we can to go out there and win. Once things get turned around, things (with fans) will change once we get some wins under our belt."
Powers(on teammate brotherhood) "Everybody believes in one another. Everybody's going to do whatever it takes to win and help each other. We have guys like Gary (Brackett) who's on injured reserve. He takes the linebackers and watches film and breaks it down with them. He's still giving his perspective on what can happen and what we can do to get better. The 53 guys we have in this locker room and even the guys on IR, we're still doing all we can to get this team some victories and get this thing turned around. There are no signs of 'quit' or anything of that nature with the players. Guys are going out there and fighting their tails off. We just have to stop making mental mistakes in crucial times of the games. When we do, things will be different."