With the release of Bob Sanders, I feel it useful to skip ahead to the safety position in the Colts Defense. I'll head back and pick up Linebackers and Corner Backs soon. We can start with Bob's impact to the safety position this year.
There was no impact from Bob this season. He appeared in less than 1 quarter of the first game of the season. He did not officially record anything on the stat sheet. That sums up Bob. Thanks for the memories, Superman.
On to the safeties that hit the field with the Colts this season. Going into the year, I felt pretty good about what we had at the safety position. I was envisioning Sanders and Bethea in the defensive backfield with Bullitt in on some Nickel situations. I had some crazy coverages worked out in my head. Antoine, Bob, Melvin and Brackett showing blitz and then dropping three of them back into coverage. Talk about confusion! Alas, it was never to be.
Jamie Silva went down for the year during preseason. No biggie. Just a backup. Bob went down in week 1, and his IR status was one of the worst decisions of the year. Well, we've done ok without him before. We can handle this. Melvin Bullitt got hurt in the Week 4 game at Jacksonville. F&*K! Who the hell is gonna play safety now?
Enter a veritable cornucopia of cast-off, undrafted and over-the-hill safeties. Names like Brandon King, Chip Vaughn, DeJuan Morgan, Ken Hamlin and Aaron Francisco ended up seeing time at the safety position for the Colts. Hard to expect high level performance from players of this level. Let's look at some of the key performers and some who we all wish had not been so key.
1) Antoine Bethea
What can you say about the most consistent performer in the defensive secondary? Antoine has been the stalwart in the Colts' defensive backfield for years now. He was 1st in tackles this year, 3rd last year and 2nd the year before that. He has stayed healthy and played big when we need him. His stability is something we need in our backfield.
A lot was made this season of the "new" Colts' Defense. We saw a larger number of safeties down in the box with single high or three deep coverage. I think this was due to a couple things. One is Antoine's ability to play a good and instinctual center field. The other is the inability of the other safeties to perform reliably in that deep area.
Antoine will be 27 next season and should be locked in a Colts starter for the next few years. With Bob being cut today, he is the longest tenured member of the safety position. I think Colts' fans everywhere will be happy to see him in Blue.
2) Aaron Francisco
With the release of Tim Jennings after the 2009 season, many Stampede Blue readers were looking for a new whipping boy. Once injuries forced Francisco back into the starting lineup, a new whipping boy was found. Aaron rejoined the team after week 4 and played in every game there after.
As a player known for his special teams prowess, Francisco was not able to shine there this season. Colts.com only credits him with 3 ST tackles all season. This just shows that he played too often in the actual defense and couldn't be used in special teams.
While most of us will remember more missed tackles and over-run angles more than anything else, he did come in seventh overall on the team in tackles with 57 total. I know that is little consolation for many of us who feel like Francisco should not be anywhere on the defensive depth chart. His one interception on the year, pictured above, was something special. You have to be careful with things like that though as he was just a few inches from being burned for a HUGE gain and TD.
I think most of us will be shocked if Francisco is back with the Colts next season. The only way is if Silva doesn't come back into form this off-season.
3) Melvin Bullitt
While Melvin did not play enough this season to warrant being included in a season recap, the fact that he is now the presumed starter for next season does. While he is not technically under contract for next season, I do expect the FO to re-sign him and side him right into the starting lineup.
Bullitt, in relief of Sanders for multiple years, earned a spot in the starting lineup. No one seemed more disheartened after his injury than Melvin sitting on the sidelines. I look for him to come back strong and stay healthy as he has not had injury problems in the past.
After earning his spot on the team as a Special Teamer, Melvin has earned a chance to start. I look forward to seeing him back in blue next season.
There was no position with more injury problems than the safeties this year. With three of the top four players on the opening day depth chart going out for the season, it was a scramble drill all season long. This made the performance a difficult one for this group. Each week we had to adapt to a new player coming in and trying to learn the system. Even players brought in to be special team depth ended up seeing sometime on the field.
I would expect one of the early draft picks to be a safety. While no one in this draft seems to be a first round safety, there are some that interest me in the second or third. The Colts will look for someone who can play both FS and SS as the positions are almost interchangeable in the Colts system. Players like Tyler Sash from Iowa and Joe Lefeged from Rutgers are two players I have my eye on.
I would not be surprised to see a low level veteran FA brought in to be a camp body as well. That person may or may not be Aaron Francisco (my vote is not him, but it wouldn't surprise me).