Players from all over the NFL are in training camp, working, sweating, and reaching deep inside themselves to ensure that when the NFL kicks off it's full slate of Sunday games on September 11th, they'll still be on the roster – and as high on the depth chart as possible.
Colts third-year veteran Gerome Sapp has that date circled on his calendar not only because he hopes that it's the beginning of a season that could culminate in a Super Bowl appearance for his team, but also because it's a homecoming of sorts for him. The Colts open the season that Sunday night with a nationally broadcast game on ESPN versus the Baltimore Ravens.
"It's going to be like going home since that's where I started my career," Sapp told ColtPower. "It's a great stadium. The fans are really going to be into the game, and it's just going to be a good time. And our team can't wait to get out there."
Sapp was a sixth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2003 out of Notre Dame and played as a reserve safety and special teams star. He logged 10 tackles on defense and an impressive 17 tackles and a fumble recovery on special teams. But following a productive training camp in 2004, he was released in the final round of cuts.
The Colts wasted no time snatching him up less than a week after he hit the waiver wire since they were in dire need of boosting their special teams talent. Sapp was a perfect fit and had the intelligence and attitude necessary to zero in on return-men, making the field as long as possible for the opposing offense.
"The thing about football that a lot of people don't realize is it's a team sport with eleven one-on-one battles on the field," said Sapp. "Running down kickoffs...it's an attitude you have to have."
And make no mistake about it, those few moments on each kickoff coverage can be chaotic.
"You start off with a guy next to you, and you look around and he's on his back," the 6'1, 216-pound safety explained.
"I'm running down to make a tackle, and I focus on who's trying to block me and figure out the best way to beat him. If I beat him, I have a good chance at making a tackle because a lot of times they don't double my position. Then you pinpoint the returner and cut him off with a good angle and wrap him up. And when you hit him, you make sure he doesn't fall forward for more yardage."
To date, Sapp considers Kansas City's Dante Hall as the most formidable returns specialist that he's had to face.
"He's patient and lets the blockers form in front of him and set up their blocks," said Sapp. "And then he just hits another gear and explodes to where he sees the daylight."
"He can just stop on a dime, too. When you're covering that team, you have to get down there and basically corral him and give him no way out. And when you get your hands on him you have to wrap him up because even though he's small, he's stronger than you think."
And while he excels on special teams, as evidenced by the 16 tackles he made covering kickoffs and punts in his first season with the Colts, his preferred role is the safety position.
"There's more opportunities for you to break the game open and really help the team," he said. "I enjoy interceptions, I enjoy hitting people and making them fumble."
When Sapp compares the two defensive schemes he has learned during his first two seasons, he said that clearly the Ravens used a much more complex defense.
"Not necessarily harder to grasp, just more complex," he said. "There are more looks they give to teams. The quarterback may look at the defense and thinks he knows what you're in, but it's totally different than what he imagines."
"Here, we line up and they know what we're in for the most part. I love the simplicity of the defense. This defense is good for me now, but the safeties in Baltimore are more active."
Even though the Colts' defensive scheme is simpler, Sapp points out that playing safety in that scheme presents some big challenges because the safety can give up some big plays if he misreads the play.
"There are some coverages where we have gap responsibility, as well as a deep third responsibility," he explained. "It's kind of a conflict. Because when you see the run you have a gap to fill and they need you there. But if it's a pass, they need you back. So it really calls for you to be disciplined."
Sapp was sidelined with a shoulder injury during last weekend's matchup against Buffalo, but he returned to practice this week.
"It happened on that fumble recovery I got in Tokyo," he said. "I was running up the sideline with it and a player grabbed me around the legs and a then a lineman came and all that weight came down on my shoulder as I landed on the turf."
While he expects to see action in this weekend's game against the Bears, Sapp's anxious to continue his development while he strives to earn a starting role on the defense.
"I plan on helping the defense out a lot more than last year," he said. "I watched film of myself from last year and it's like watching two different people. I'm a lot more comfortable this year and I know the guys I'm playing with, which is huge."
"My goal is to be a difference maker for the team this year."
With his intelligence, focus, and determination, there's little doubt that Gerome Sapp will achieve that goal. And it all begins for him on September 11th when he faces his former teammates in Baltimore.
Find out why Gerome Sapp believes the secondary will be better this season, how the multitude of injuries during this training camp has impacted the mood of the team, what he'd like you to know more than anything else about Gerome Sapp...and more in our upcoming Q&A article for our Premium Members on Monday morning!
Sapp's Going to Make a Difference
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