The glass-half-empty Indianapolis Colts fan sees potential disaster now that a two-time Pro Bowl strong safety has left town.
Darius Butler is in a different league — literally.
A sixth-year cornerback playing for his third NFL franchise, Butler said he thinks the Colts’ defensive secondary could emerge as a strength given its blend of youthful enthusiasm and veteran presence.
Gone is Antoine Bethea, who in March inked a four-year, $23 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Joining returnees Butler, fellow corner Vontae Davis and free safety LaRon Landry will be 11-year strong safety Mike Adams.
The 5-11, 200-pound Adams, signed in June, spent the past two seasons with Denver. He started seven of the Broncos’ 16 regular-season games in 2013, finishing with 64 tackles and an interception.
“Anytime you lose a guy like Bethea, that’s tough. He’s kind of been a mainstay here. But we’ve got guys that are going to step up and collectively fill that role leadership-wise and production-wise out on the field,” Butler said.
“(Adams) has played over a decade in this league. Anytime a guy can play in the league that long, for one you know he’s going to have a lot of knowledge he can share. He played for a defense that went to the Super Bowl last year.”
Impressive credentials, but not enough to persuade Butler to relinquish his jersey number.
Both Adams and the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Butler have worn No. 20 in recent years. The standard offseason negotiating ensued with Butler keeping his and Adams switching to No. 29.
“I’m still rocking ‘20’. We had some conversations, but I ended up sticking with it. Everything’s for sale . . . besides my kids. It’s not a number I’ve had for a long time, but I feel I kind of resurrected my career here in Indy with this number and done some good things,” said Butler, who last season finished with 54 tackles and four picks.
“In high school I wore No. 2. In college I wore No. 1. First couple years in New England I wore No. 28, then No. 27 in Carolina and No. 20 here. I haven’t really stayed with a number like my whole career, but ‘20’ feels good and looks good. I’ve had success in it, and I’m going to keep creating that success.”
The four interceptions tied a career-high for Butler, who recorded the same total in 2012, his first season with the Colts. He already has 11 in his career, including four returns for touchdown.
Indianapolis finished 20th of the league’s 32 teams in total defense last season, permitting an average of 357.1 yards. It rated slightly better in pass defense, holding down the No. 17 position (232.8).
The defensive unit was anything but stellar in its two postseason outings, giving up 513 total yards in a 45-44 AFC wild card playoff victory against Kansas City and 419 in the season-ending loss at New England.
As if concerns hadn’t been heightened enough, the four-game suspension of All-Pro outside linebacker and quarterback-harasser extraordinaire Robert Mathis for violating the league’s drug policy places even greater burden on the secondary.
Indy opens its season Sept. 7 on the road in Denver against Peyton Manning then returns home in Week 2 to play Philadelphia and its emerging young QB, Nick Foles. Weeks 3 (at Jacksonville) and 4 (host Tennessee) will be games the Colts are favored even without Mathis.
Butler, for one, is up to the challenge and insists his teammates will be, also.
“Guys didn’t like how the season ended last year. We feel we have all the pieces in place to be a great team and do some great things this year,” Butler said.
“We know it’s on us as a defense to hold up our end. Obviously, with the way the league is going and how offenses are changing by going up-tempo and putting a lot of points on the board, the more turnovers we can create the better chance we have to win every game.
“We’ve got some new faces, some new names. We’ve just got to come out here and get better every day. We look good on paper, but it’s about putting it together on the field.”