ANDERSON, Ind. — Early in Sunday’s afternoon practice, safety Antoine Bethea took a lateral following an interception by Tom Zbikowski and began sprinting downfield.
Once he’d cleared the muddle of offensive players in front of him, Bethea heard large footsteps behind him. He slowed and made a lateral of his own to 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive end Cory Redding, who took a few more quick steps, jumped and spiked the ball into the grass.
It’s safe to say Bethea, a two-time Pro Bowler entering his seventh season with the Indianapolis Colts, quickly is forming a bond with his new teammates.
“We’re excited,” Bethea said following the morning practice at Anderson University, speaking about a defense that could include both aforementioned former Baltimore Ravens as starters. “We had good OTAs, finished up strong. To be back out here, first day of training camp, guys are excited. Get a little bit of the cobwebs out, coming back from the month off, but I’m pretty sure when we get out here this afternoon and get full speed, they’ll be a lot more intensity.”
Defensive back Korey Lindsey, another offseason addition, also picked off quarterback Andrew Luck during the afternoon practice. The turnovers marked the first two times Luck has been intercepted during practice since joining the Colts in April.
But, if past is prologue, Indianapolis defensive backs could be getting their hands on a lot of footballs this fall.
Head coach Chuck Pagano has had something of a magic touch with defensive backs.
When Pagano was the defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2001, Anthony Henry led the NFL with 10 interceptions. All-Pro safety Ed Reed had nine interceptions in 2008 and eight in 2010 with Pagano as his defensive backs coach in Baltimore.
Last season, with Pagano as defensive coordinator, the Ravens picked off
15 total passes — almost twice as many as the Colts’ total of eight.
Bethea never has had more than four interceptions in a single season, but he is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has recorded at least 100 tackles in three of the past four seasons.
Reed became an eight-time Pro Bowler and the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year playing safety in a 3-4 scheme in Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s Troy Palomalu has been named to seven Pro Bowls and won the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year award playing in a similar scheme.
Bethea now will play the same position for the Colts.
“I’m extremely excited, just seeing what those guys have done in their career in a system that’s similar,” he said. “I’m just trying to really watch as much film as I can and see what I can pick up from those guys.
And with Coach Pagano being defensive minded and being a DB coach in the past, I’m extremely excited to see what I can do.”
What he did last year was pretty good, recording 139 tackles with seven passes broken up and two forced fumbles. The tackle total was the highest of his career by 33 stops, and Bethea certainly will be among the leaders on a defense that could feature as many as six new starters.
He said the Colts bonded well during offseason workouts, and now they’re hoping to build off that momentum through the start of training camp.
“We had a good two months with each other,” Bethea said. “So we’re back out here and excited to get things going. We ended OTAs well. So we just want to pick it back up there.”