Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Safety Position
INDIANAPOLIS – The package is pretty much complete.
When it comes to the safety position, as Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell sees it, there's every reason to be cautiously optimistic about the spot.
There's experience. There's big-time talent.
Entering training camp, there is some solid depth, too.
Which is why Caldwell said the safety position – an imant, productive area for the defense in recent seasons – very much remains a core position on the defense entering the 2010 season.
"Obviously, it's an experienced group," Caldwell said recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' safeties, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
"It's a group that has had a lot of big-time plays over the years."
How big? How experienced?
The Colts have three safeties with extensive experience – Bob Sanders, Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt – and in that group, there are two players who have twice been named to the Pro Bowl (Sanders, Bethea) and one (Bullitt) who has developed from a free-agent rookie into a reliable player with the knack for critical plays at the right moments.
"They all have been involved in big games, and they all have had a pretty profound impact on our defense," Caldwell said. "We certainly feel good about our depth, but we also have to stay healthy as well."
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 season after sustaining a season-ending biceps injury in October.
Sanders participated in organized team activities recently, the first time in several off-seasons he had done so.
"He feels good about where he is physically, and when he feels good about himself physically, obviously he can relax and play the game the way he knows how," Caldwell said of Sanders. "All of us realize when he cuts it loose, some big things are bound to happen."
Said Sanders, "It's been a long time. I was always at this time rehabbing and icing up a lot and spending a lot of time in the training room, so it feels good not to spend most of my offseason in the training room and actually be able to go in the weight room and get my weight back up and be able to compete with my teammates. Just being around that atmosphere of building that camaraderie and working with my teammates, it's definitely encouraging and a lot of fun."
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 said he is looking forward to playing alongside Sanders.
"It was funny, he actually sent me a text not too long ago saying that he wishes that I was out there with him, but it makes me feel good to talk to him and hear him say that (he) feels good and that it's the healthiest he's been in a long time," Bethea said. "To have No. 21 out there alongside me and being able for both us to go out there and raise havoc, I'm happy and I'm excited."
Bethea for a second consecutive season also adapted to leadership role in the secondary, and made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
Late in the team's OTAs, Bethea signed a long-term contract extension.
"It shows what they think of you," Bethea said. "For them to extend that extended contract to me, I'm blessed, I'm happy, and being considered one of those core guys on the team makes me feel good."
With Sanders out much of the season, Bullitt for a second consecutive season played a more prominent role than might have been expected before the season.
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.
"Melvin's a great player, and he's done an excellent job," Sanders said of Bullitt during OTAs. "We're all competing. We don't know who's going to be where. We have no idea. It's still early. We just don't know, so I really can't make a comment on that because there's a lot of time here left and there are a lot of positions on the field that we can all play.
"We're just going to focus on getting better and working as a unit and working as a team. And whatever happens in that way, it will happen. We'll wait and see."
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 last 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.
The Colts shortly after the NFL Draft signed as collegiate free agents safety David Caldwell, as well as safety Donye McCleskey from Indiana State University.