Colts Address Safety Position with Melvin Bullitt Out for Season
INDIANAPOLIS – In a very real sense, Antoine Bethea said little will change.
Yes, safety Melvin Bullitt is out for the season.
And yes, Bethea said, Bullitt for two seasons has been very valuable and a whole lot more than just a consistent backup safety.
But Bethea – a two-time Pro Bowl safety who has been the most durable player in the Colts' secondary the past two seasons – said this much is true, too:
The Colts have been there before, and with Bullitt out for the season and starter Bob Sanders currently out as well, the team's oft-cited "Next Man Up" mantra will hold true. Yet again.
"We preach that in OTAs (organized team activities)," Bethea said as the Colts (2-2) prepared to play the Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. "Even though you might be slated as a practice player or not a starter, you have to prepare like you're a starter, because you never know when your number or name is going to be called.
"When your number or name is called, you have to come and you have to play just like you came in as a first-rounder. You have to come in and play as a professional."
Bullitt, who signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent following the 2007 NFL Draft, played a major role each of the past two seasons in place Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl safety. He started nine games in 2008, intercepting four passes, then started 12 games – and all three post-season games – last season.
He started three games this season in place of Sanders, but sustained a shoulder injury against Jacksonville Sunday and was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
"He has been a real critical part of this defense, just filling in – and I can't even say 'filling in for Bob' – stepping up," Bethea said. "Playing the way he's been playing, he's a veteran player for us, and it's unfortunate for him to go down as he did.
"But that's the nature of the game and like we always say, the next man has to come in, step in and play well."
The loss of Bullitt leaves Bethea and four other safeties on the roster: veteran DaJuan Morgan, who played extensively in place of Bullitt Sunday, as well as rookie free-agent Brandon King, free-agent rookie Mike Newton and six-year veteran Aaron Francisco, signed by the team Tuesday.
"When the opunity comes, you have to be ready," said Morgan, a third-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft who spent two seasons with Kansas City. "You approach it just like you do every other week: 'You have to be ready so you don't have to get ready.'
"That's the big thing around here we're always preaching, 'Stay ready, so when it's your time you don't have to get ready.''
Said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, "We don't harp on guys who get injured or bellyache with a 'woe is me' type of attitude. When we do have a bit of challenge, we embrace it. Whoever is line to step up and do the job we expect them do to so. We've gotten that for the most part."
Caldwell said Wednesday it was uncertain who will start alongside Bethea.
"We'll find out as the week goes on," Caldwell said. "They have an opportunity. We'll work them and see who emerges. . . . Overall, you are dealing with someone who has less experience – so, all of the things that come with that."
Caldwell said one of the adjustments may mean "having to curtail some things that you do."
"It just depends on how fast they can come along," he said.
Caldwell, asked Monday if it were possible King could play Sunday, said, "That's a possibility."
King, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, practiced Wednesday.
"Actually, I'm just excited to be back practicing and being with the coaches, getting more detailed," King said. "I just want to learn the position all the way. We'll see – however the practices go, however this week goes will tell it all."
Morgan said however extensively he plays, his role is not to necessarily replace Bullitt or Sanders in terms of style, but to play as he plays.
"I just have to be myself," Morgan said. "I've played this game before. It's not my first time starting and it's not my first time playing. I'm not trying to be Bob Sanders, and I'm not trying to be Melvin Bullitt. I'm going to be DaJuan Morgan."
Whoever plays – and however extensively – Bethea said the Colts' defensive approach won't change, and that he won't change his approach either. He has played alongside not only Sanders in recent seasons, but Bullitt, too, and said while there likely will be a different younger, lesser-known player playing in that spot Sunday, Bullitt was once young and little-known, too.
"I have a belief in everybody who's in this locker room," Bethea said. "I'm just going to go out and do my thing. Whatever they need, I'm there for them. If they have a question, I'm there for them. I don't want to change my play. Sometimes when you overcompensate, you have put yourself out of position.
"We just want to screw the screws on a little tighter, and just go out there and have fun and play ball."