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Colts' Bethea A Real Eye-Catcher

By Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Cox News Service

It is no secret the kind of firepower that the Indianapolis Colts possess on offense, but what you may not realize is that their defense is quietly starting to catch up and this season one could expect the defense to provide a powerful punch of their own, especially in the secondary.

Over the past four years, the organization has spent a number of high-round draft picks on players in an effort to beef up the secondary. In 2003, the team drafted S Michael Doss, who was highly regarded coming out of Ohio State, in the second round.

The following year they traded out of the first-round and were still able to land in round two, in my book, the top safety in the draft, Bob Sanders.

In 2005, the team used its first-round selection on CB Marlin Jackson, who will likely start opposite CB Nick Harper this season.

This brings us to 2006. Although the team drafted CB Tim Jennings in the second round of this year's draft, the crown jewel may have come later when they took Howard S Antoine Bethea in the sixth round.

Bethea appears to be on the fast track with the Colts and have caught the eyes of the coaching staff with his progress, and one coach in particular, Head Coach Tony Dungy.

"Antoine is coming along," Dungy said. "He has been a real eye-catcher in practice and in summer school and all of the way through, and it's continued on. He's gotten in the games and been very productive. He's been, I won't say a pleasant surprise because we expected that, but he's done really well. He hasn't slipped up at all."

I'll say.

In the Colts' second preseason game, Bethea led the team in tackles with seven and followed it up with a big interception in their third preseason game showing his playmaking ability.

Few surprises

Coming from a small school like Howard you would expect a player to struggle a bit, but that hasn't been the case with Bethea. According to Dungy, there have been very few surprises with the rookie safety.

 "Probably the only surprise is that he's able to do it at this level," Dungy said. "What he's doing is exactly what we saw on tape. He played center field at Howard, he made a ton of plays, he ran to the ball and he was a guy that looked like the best guy on tape in most of the games he was in. And you say, 'Well, it's small-school level, almost like Robert Mathis, and with that level of competition, it's probably going to take him time to adjust,' but it really hasn't."

Bethea drew a considerable amount of interest from teams including the Browns, Bengals, Seahawks and Vikings before the draft, but none were able to pull the trigger on draft day. Indianapolis was the only club to bring him in for a pre-draft visit. So you see, the Colts had their sights set on the hard-hitting safety all along.

What's his role?

When asked if he had a chip on his shoulder because he was overlooked for being a small-school talent, Bethea didn't seem phased.

"I wouldn't say that I have a chip on my shoulder, but it's always in the back of my mind that you want to prove the people wrong who doubted you." Bethea said.

 It is uncertain what role Bethea will play on this defense, but vows to be ready when his number is called.

 "Right now I really don't know what type of role I will play. All I can say is when my number is called I'm going to go out there and play like Bob [Sanders] and Mike [Doss]. You know how they play. Just run to the ball, hustle, hit, and try to take control of the defense, and help the defense improve."

The Skinny

The 5-11, 198-pound safety is a hard-nose, hard-hitting defensive back that will knock an opponent out like Mike Tyson used to.

Bethea has outstanding speed and quickness. He ran a 4.39 at the Combine in February. He's a ball-hawking defender with exceptional cover skills and the ability to make big plays.

He is a safety that can cover a No. 2 receiver. Bethea is really aggressive, has a good work ethic and is very versatile.

Room for Improvement

Coming in as a rookie, Bethea will be tested and will have to learn to be patient in pass-coverage and not bite on the play-action. His aggressiveness will sometimes get him into trouble when he is running in to support the run too quickly.

Bottom line: the Colts appear to have found themselves a diamond in the rough.