Bullitt finally lands Colts' starting safety job

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Melvin Bullitt spent his first four years in Indianapolis trying to unseat someone else in training camp.

This year, he is the player the youngsters are after.

When the Colts released Bob Sanders in February and re-signed Bullitt to a three-year contract just before training camp opened, the Texas native from the football family finally got the promotion he'd spent a lifetime preparing for, starting NFL safety.

"I look at it this way, if you're a guy on this team and you feel like a backup, you shouldn't be here," Bullitt said Monday. "You should feel like you're the starter, and that's how I'm looking at it."

Of course, the gig isn't entirely new for Bullitt. He actually started 24 games over the past three seasons in place of Sanders.

But the role - and the expectations - have changed.

Bullitt is no longer the pupil. Instead, he's the mentor for his younger teammates who dream of following in Bullitt's footsteps.

It's easy to understand why, too.

After following his father and uncle to Texas A&M, Bullitt wound up playing four positions in four years with the Aggies, then signed with the Colts as an undrafted rookie in 2007. While he was busy trying to win one of Indy's coveted roster spots, Sanders was busy becoming the NFL's defensive player of the year.

But even then, Colts coaches liked what they saw from Bullitt.

"He stepped right in and filled a void that we had as a rookie and he's been able to fill in ever since then," coach Jim Caldwell said. "He tackled well, he was a playmaker, an opportunist and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. In addition to that, he's been a great special teams player over the years."

Until now, though, Bullitt always had to deal with the Sanders questions.

- What role would he play if or when the oft-injured Sanders returned?

- Did he feel like he deserved to be the Colts starter?

- Would he look elsewhere for a starting job if the Colts kept Sanders around?

The talkative, easygoing safety continued to say and do all the right things.

"Bob was a good preparation guy and that's something a lot of people don't know," Bullitt said. "A lot of what I learned from him was how to prepare for games and how to play the run."

And along the way, Bullitt became one of the Colts' top play-makers.

He sealed three Indy wins in 2008 with interceptions. In 2009, Bullitt drove Kevin Faulk into the ground on a fourth-down swing pass that gave the ball back to Peyton Manning with a chance to rally the Colts for an improbable 35-34 victory over the Patriots.

Teammates respected Bullitt so much they even voted the special teams demon a co-captain in 2009 and 2010.

Off the field, Bullitt has done his part to project the right image, too.

During the Colts' bye week in 2009, he returned to Texas so he could give a pink pair of game-day gloves to a teacher and breast cancer patient at his rival high school. A few months later, Bullitt gave his father, Jerry, his 2009 AFC Championship ring.

Finally, in February, the Colts decided to make the change.

Indy released the safety who had been limited to nine regular-season appearances between 2008 and 2010. Sanders eventually signed with San Diego, and when the lockout ended, Indy wasted no time in bringing back Bullitt, who missed the last 12 games last year with a right shoulder injury.

"It feels good to have Jerraud (Powers) back, Melvin back, to see those guys out there moving around, running around and making plays, you know I think that was a big issue for us," cornerback Jacob Lacey said. "In the past couple years I have been here, there has been health issues. But hopefully we can stay healthy, keep everybody out on the field."

That's only part of Bullitt's plan.

He's spent extra time on the field throughout training camp so he can keep his starting job -- and to set the example for all those young guns who are after the job he now holds.

"We're professionals and we want to get better," Bullitt said. "We want to perfect our craft. You see Reggie (Wayne,) he's catching. I mean the guy can catch anything and he's still catching after practice. You see a lot of the young safeties tackling. You see tight ends working on extra things. It's just us wanting to be better as the season goes on."

Tagged: Colts, Chargers, Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt

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