THE SAFETIES

Antoine Bethea, a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from Howard University, not only led the Colts in tackles in 2009, he made a second Pro Bowl in three seasons.

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Bethea, Bullitt Give Colts Steady Play, Consistency at Safety Position in 2009

INDIANAPOLIS – As Antoine Bethea sees it, what's written or said means little.

Bethea, a Pro Bowl selection two of the past three seasons, said the way he figures it, if he and his teammates at the Colts' safety position know they're playing well, if they know they're doing their job, that's what matters more than anything else.

So, while the position may be underrated . . .

So, if other positions and players are discussed more in the media . . .

So, what?, Bethea said.

"It is what it is," Bethea said late this past season when discussing the safety position, which is the topic of this story in a position-by-position series on the Colts' roster running on Colts.com in March.

"Obviously, we watch film and our teammates and our coaches are able to see the type of play me and Melvin (Bullitt) have put in and the effort we've put in. That's the most imant thing – that our teammates and coaches can see our style of play."

That style not only helped the safety position this past season, it allowed the secondary and the defense play at a high enough level to help the Colts to a second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.

The Colts' safeties were consistent, and with Bullitt playing strong safety in place of 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders much of the season, they were a reliable presence in a secondary that endured several key injuries during the season.

That reliability began with Bethea.

And actually, that has been the case each of the last two seasons.

Entering the 2008 season, Bethea had a goal of playing every game, and while he achieved that goal, he talked during the off-season before the 2009 season of wanting to not only play every game, but to improve on his performance from the previous season.

A Pro Bowl selection following the 2007 season, Bethea said too often during 2008 he missed a key play, or a makeable tackle.

In 2009, Bethea – a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from Howard University – not only improved from the season before, he said late in the season 2009 may have been the best of his four NFL seasons. He led the Colts with 120 tackles – 75 solos – and also had a team-high four interceptions with four passes defensed. He also had a quarterback pressure, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Bethea for a second consecutive year also adapted to a leadership role in the secondary.

Sanders, a Pro Bowl selection in 2005 and 2007, missed 10 games in 2008, then began this past season inactive with a knee injury. He returned, but missed all but two games this past year after sustaining a season-ending injury.

"With Bob being the oldest guy in the room and with him going down, of course I had to step up a little bit," Bethea said. "As far as a leadership role, that's not always talking. That could be done in your play, just letting the young guys see how it's done and letting them follow you.

"But as far as my play, I just want to go out there and play ball."

Sanders, a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, made six tackles in two starts last season, but did not play after sustaining a season-ending injury against San Francisco on November 1.

"He has had tough luck the past two years with injuries," Colts President Bill Polian said of Sanders in late December. "There is no doubt about that….We all agree that he is a dynamite player and a guy who brings a dynamic set of skills. Sometimes that dynamic set of skills leads to injury that maybe the average player would not incur because he hits so hard. If you're asking me, 'Is that dynamic set of skills a good tradeoff for perhaps not being available all of the time?' I'd probably say yes.

"We anticipate that Bob will be back hale and hardy and ready to go and that there won't be any problems, and that he'll have the first off-season he has had in the past four years without surgery. That's going to be a good thing for him. It's going to be good for his mental frame of mind, and it certainly will be good for his body. We look forward to having him back."

With Sanders out much of the season, Bullitt for a second consecutive season played a more prominent role than might have been expected.

Bullitt, who signed with the Colts as a free agent shortly after the 2007 NFL Draft, started 12 games after starting nine the season before, and in 2009, he finished fourth on the team with 82 tackles, including 55 solos. He also had a pressure, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.

"My main thing is just try to continue to improve year in and year out," Bullitt said. "From my rookie year, I feel as though I've matured a lot, become a better football player, and hopefully I can just continue to do the same. I want to become one of the best DBs in the game."

Said Bethea, "He can start on any team, I think, in the NFL. I give much credit to Melvin Bullitt. He's done a great job for us."

Bullitt said while he never lacked confidence, a conversation with Colts Head Coach Caldwell Jim Caldwell – then the team's associate head coach – in 2008 helped him adapt to playing a key role in the secondary. Bullitt had played mostly on special teams as a rookie, and with Sanders out, Bullitt moved into a starting position the second half of the season.

"It was very difficult at first," Bullitt said. "I was a second-year player when the injury bug hit him a little bit and I had to step into my starting role. At first I was a little nervous. My first game I was like, 'Hey man, just do what you do. Go out there and play how you know how to play, and you will be fine.' I just relaxed.

"I had Coach Caldwell come up to me during the middle of the season and tell me, 'You're playing excellent football. I like what you're doing out there, running and making plays on the ball.' That was a huge confidence booster, and let me know that I belong in there."

Jamie Silva, who originally signed with the Colts as a free agent from Boston College shortly after the 2008 NFL Draft, played an extensive role as a backup and special teams player for a second consecutive season. He played 14 games with 17 tackles and a pass defensed on defense and his 15 special teams tackles ranked second on the team.

Note: The 2010 Colts.com position-by-position series that will run during March is meant to serve as an overview of the Colts' roster as it stands entering the 2010 offseason and to provide fans a detailed look at how the position groups fared during the 2009 Super Bowl XLIV season. Any analysis included herein does not reflect the opinion of Colts management.

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