The Indianapolis Colts recently took down two banners from the side of Lucas Oil Stadium (of a horseshoe and Dwight Freeney) and replaced them with two players currently on the team. One of those players was safety Antoine Bethea.
Bethea has been the consistent starter and producer in a Colts secondary that has been anything but consistent. But Bethea - a two time pro bowler who has started 80 games in a row - has been a tremendous player for the Colts and deserves his spot on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium.
That said, his play dipped a bit in 2012. To help take some pressure off of him, the Colts signed a guy whose play reached a career-high level in 2012 to start alongside Bethea. Ask any Colts fan about who the biggest name free agent signing was for the team this offseason, and they will tell you LaRon Landry.
The safety duo of Bethea and Landry has a lot of potential to be very good - but it's no guarantee. One thing that is guaranteed, however, is that those two will be the two starting safeties when the Colts open up the 2013 season. Who backs them up? Now that's an entirely different question all-together.
The Colts currently have 8 safeties on their roster. Two will start - Bethea and Landry.
Antoine Bethea was drafted by the Colts in the 6th round of the 2006 draft, and since then he has started 107 games and recorded 696 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 41 pass deflections, 12 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries. His streak of 80 consecutive games started ranks second among active safeties and he has earned pro bowl berths in both 2007 and 2009. He currently has another very impressive streak going as well, as he has recorded at least 100 tackles in each of the past five seasons. Last year, Bethea notched 100 tackles with 2 sacks and 7 pass deflections. It was a down year for Bethea, a player who has consistently been very good for the Colts over the years, but the indication seems to be that it was just a down year. Either way, he is entering the final year of his contract and the Colts re-signing him is far from certain.
LaRon Landry was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2007 NFL draft and spent the first five seasons of his career with the Redskins (including starting 47 games in a row to start his career). After an injury-shortened 2011 season, Landry signed a one year deal with the New York Jets. With the Jets in 2012, Landry had a career year, notching 100 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 2 interceptions (with 1 touchdown) and 4 forced fumbles while being named to his first career pro bowl. The Colts signed Landry on March 13, 2013 as a free agent. Oh, and the dude also happens to be a beast in the weight room. Like, seriously. Just google his name and you'll see what I mean. He's freaking huge. [For more on LaRon Landry, check out Josh Wilson's free agent profile on him here.]
After those two guys, there remains 6 guys fighting for 2-3 roster spots: Sergio Brown, John Boyett, Delano Howell, Joe Lefeged, Daxton Swanson, and Larry Asante.
Sergio Brown enters his fourth year in the league after being signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He was released by the team right before the start of the 2012 season and the Colts signed him a day later, on September 1, 2012. He played in all 16 games for the Colts, notching 11 tackles and a pass deflection. Of those 11 tackles, 10 came on special teams. In his career, he has played in 42 games, starting 3. He has made 59 tackles, 2 pass deflections, 1 pick, and 1 fumble recovery.
John Boyett was drafted by the Colts in the 6th round of this year's draft. In 40 career games at Oregon, Boyett started 35 and recorded 278 tackles, 30 pass deflections, 10 picks (1 touchdown) and a half of a sack. Unfortunately, he missed most of his senior season after tearing his patellar tendon in both knees and undergoing surgery. Pre-injury, he likely would have gone around the third round, but the Colts got him in the sixth. It's a move that should help the Colts significantly, as long as he is able to recover well from his knee surgeries.
Delano Howell enters his second season in the league, having spent time with the Bills and Colts last year. Total, he played in 6 games (5 for the Colts) and recorded 2 tackles (1 for Indy).
Joe Lefeged was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Colts in 2011. In his first year in the league, he played in all 16 games, starting 1, and recording 34 tackles, 4 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions. In 2012, he started 4 games while once again playing in all 16, and he made 31 tackles and a fumble recovery. He provided very valuable depth at safety, but his biggest contribution was on special teams. He notched a team-high 16 special teams tackles and was even named a special teams captain by his teammates. He looked like an absolute lock to make the team... until he got arrested. Just a few weeks ago, he was arrested on multiple gun charges in Washington D.C. The whole situation was just a really unfortunate one full of some dumb choices, and while we don't know all the details, from what we do know it doesn't seem like an offense worthy of him losing his roster spot. He needs to be smarter off the field, but I still think that he will make the roster. He's the best backup safety the Colts have and their best special teams coverage guy, after all.
Daxton Swanson is an undrafted free agent who a lot of people have their eyes on. In 2012 for Sam Houston State, he made 46 tackles, 4 interceptions, 18 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery as Sam Houston State reached the FCS National Championship game. In 2011, he picked off 8 passes alone. He was a very versatile player in high school, playing both defensive back and wide receiver (and leading the team in receiving, too) while also being a very successful runner for his track and field team. His versatility also showed up in college, as he played both cornerback and safety. His primary positon was corner, however, and that's what the Colts brought him in as. And then, of course, they changed his listing to safety on their official roster. What position he plays doesn't really matter at the moment, but his versatility gives him a great asset and he has a lot of potential to be a real solid fourth corner - or backup safety, whichever he ends up playing. [For more on Daxton Swanson, check out Andrew Mishler's undrafted free agent profile on him here.]
Larry Asante was drafted by the Browns in the 5th round of the 2010 draft and has also spent time with the Buccaneers. In his career, he has played in 12 games, making 14 tackles, a pass deflection, a pick, and a forced fumble. Tampa Bay released him during final roster cuts before the 2012 season and he didn't play last year, but the Colts signed him to a reserve/futures contract on December 31, 2012.
Alright, so no offense to either Delano Howell or Larry Asante, but their chances of making the 53-man roster are slim. While we can't rule them out completely, the other guys look to have a significant edge on them. Those other guys I talk about are Sergio Brown, John Boyett, Joe Lefeged, and Daxton Swanson. This is a very talented group of players, and I think that they could force the Colts to keep five safeties total (three of them in addition to Bethea and Landry) - especially if Swanson makes the team and can provide depth at both corner and safety.
Despite Lefeged's arrest, I still think he makes the team. Unless new details of what happen are released (or if he is punished by the league), I don't think that the Colts view his offense as serious enough to cut him for, and there is no doubt that last year he was a big part of the Colts special teams success (he was a captain, too) and he also provided a real solid third safety option. I think he retains that role this year and I think he continues to be a big factor on special teams - though I doubt captain status is in store for him this year again.
I think that John Boyett will make the roster because the hope is that he can be good enough that the team doesn't have to re-sign Antoine Bethea next year. That's not saying that they don't want to (wait and see how this year goes), but it would certainly be nice to have the option, and Boyett provides that. As long as he is healthy, I think that Boyett will have a spot on the roster and will, like Lefeged, provide good depth this season.
Ok, so Sergio Brown or Daxton Swanson? Brown played in every game for the Colts last year and was a good special teams player, but the hope is that Swanson can be that and more. Not only do the Colts want him to contribute on special teams but the hope is that he can provide excellent depth at both secondary positions - corner and safety. The versatility is just too much to pass up, in my opinion. Really, though, this could come down to whoever plays best on special teams in the preseason. If it's close, I think they go with Swanson for the extra dimension that he brings.
The Colts greatly improved their safety spot by adding Landry, who clearly is an upgrade over Zbikowski and who, if he can stay healthy, can be a pro bowl player as he showed last year. If Antoine Bethea returns to form in 2013, the Colts' safety duo could be really good. Add to that the fact that they have quite a bit of solid depth in Joe Lefeged, John Boyett, Daxton Swanson, and Sergio Brown, and this position is one that I feel quite comfortable with. Just like with the cornerbacks, this position should be better and the two positions combined could make for a very improved secondary for Chuck Pagano's defense in 2013.