Tenth of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell pretty much sees the Colts' safety position the way most do – as a team strength, and a special group.
One player was the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Another was a 2007 Pro Bowl selection.
And still another may be one of the league's top reserves at the position.
Caldwell, who took over as the Colts' head coach upon the retirement of seven-year head coach Tony Dungy this past January, said when it comes to the team's safeties, the Colts' top trio of players at the position is not only a well-known, much-honored group, it's a group that has the defense in solid shape.
"With those three guys in the position, it's a very, very capable group," Caldwell said recently in an interview for this story on the team's safety position, part of a position-by-position series on the Colts' roster this month on Colts.com.
The trio formed the core of a Colts secondary that for a second consecutive season emerged as one of the best in the NFL, doing so despite a slew of injuries.
The Colts' secondary last season had three key starters miss a total of 25 games with injuries, and that group included cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson as well as Sanders. Still, the Colts finished the season ranked sixth in the NFL in pass defense and set an NFL record for fewest touchdowns passing allowed in a season with six.
Caldwell said a big reason was a safety trio that included:
• Bob Sanders. A second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft from the University of Iowa, Sanders twice has made the Pro Bowl, and in 2007, he was the consensus choice as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He missed 10 games this past season with a knee injury, but Caldwell said "obviously Bob when he was in and when he was healthy played extremely well – as he always does." Sanders, who is one of the NFL's dominant defensive players when healthy, last season registered 48 tackles with an interception and a pass defensed. Caldwell said the Colts expect him to return to full strength this season. "We're looking at when he does come back from the injury, he's kind of the bell cow," Caldwell said.
• Antoine Bethea. A sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from Howard University, Bethea has been one of the most reliable, productive members of the Colts' secondary during his career. He has started 43 of 48 possible games in three seasons, and in 2007, he was named to the Pro Bowl. "He has had a tremendous impact on our defense," Caldwell said. "He makes plays. He's consistent." Bethea, the only member of the Colts' secondary to start 15 games or more this past season, finished the season with a team-leading 126 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery. He also had six double-digit tackle games. "You talk about a guy who has great instincts," Caldwell said. "He has those kind of instincts and he does a tremendous job in our secondary at safety."
• Melvin Bullitt. A free-agent signee in 2007 from Texas A&M, Bullitt in two seasons has emerged not only as one of the key members of the Colts' defense, but as one of the more underrated reserve defensive backs in the NFL. "Bullit's one one of those guys who makes a lot of plays," Caldwell said. "He's around the ball all the time." Bullitt last season started nine games, including eight at strong safety, registering 69 tackles, a team-leading four interceptions, four passes defensed and a fumble recovery. He also had eight special teams tackles. Three of his interceptions clinched victories and in the Colts' 24-20 victory over Pittsburgh his one-handed interception clinched the victory on the game's final play. "He came up with a couple of real key interceptions last year, to end drives and games," Caldwell said. "He kept us on the winning side of the ledger."
While the trio of Sanders, Bethea and Bullitt took the majority of the snaps, Caldwell said rookie Jamie Silva – a free agent signee from Boston College – developed into a key player on special teams as well as emerging as a valuable reserve safety.
"He's one, too, that does have some ability and he's going to continue to progress," Caldwell said of Silva, who finished the season with 12 special teams tackles.
Matt Giordano, who spent the past four seasons as a key reserve and special teams player, became a free agent at the end of February and has not yet been re-signed.
Brannon Condren, a fourth-round selection by the Colts from Troy in the 2007 NFL Draft who spent part of last season with the St. Louis Rams, returned to the Colts during the regular season last season, and the team also recently signed first-year veteran Travis Key.
"It's a good, competitive environment," said Caldwell, a safety at the University of Iowa in the mid-1970s. "That's a group of guys that you're going to see grow and develop."