Dan Sheldon: The thing that makes any punt return successful is catching the ball first. You can't do anything with the ball if you don't catch it first. Then it's all reaction. It's all the speed training you do that is almost unrelated. People would ask "how'd you return that punt?" and I don't remember. I'll have to watch it on film to see what I did because in my head it seems a little different. It's a lot of quick reaction and having the focus to catch the ball and then as soon as you catch it, you react to what's around you. There's never a given path, it's not like running a route. There are going to be different holes and different ways to get around and sometimes you don't make the right decision and sometimes you. That's the game of football
Q: During your college carrier did you have many fumbles as a punt returner?
DS: I don't think I ever lost a ball and that a credit to some great help from teammates. I've probably had one or two here or there that I didn't catch cleanly but was able to get on. There might have been one or two in my whole career. The thing was I was raw as a punt returner in college. I punt returned in high school and I went to college and all of a sudden we went through our top two punt returners and I was the next guy in line for the job and it was like "go in there and do it". There was no real training and I really had no where to do it. I've learned a lot over the years on how to become a better punt returner.
Q: I asked the question because I interviewed Troy Walters a couple months ago, and he told me that with the Colts, the main thing they want you to do is just get the ball for their offense...period. Like you were saying, first make sure you've got the ball and then only try to move with it if you're sure you can do something with it.
DS: Yep. That offense is one of the best in the country and you want to make sure they have the ball. It's also nice if you can improve the spot they start at and hopefully I might be able to assist in that. But yeah you're right the most important thing is making sure you're offense has the ball and the next most important thing is giving them the best field position you can. God permitting you're able to score touchdown and I don't think Peyton minds sitting on the bench a little longer if that's the case.
Q: I know you only got to run back a few kickoffs; is that a position you're trying to take on at the pro level as well?
DS: Yes, definitely. I'd really like to get back into doing kickoffs. I didn't get to do as many in college because of the number of snaps I was taking on offense and punt returns. The coaches felt that would be a time for me to rest. I am trying to compete in that and last year on the practice squad at Arizona I returned all of the scout team kickoffs and I watched a lot of film on it. And I feel that I've learned a lot there.
Q: Now as dangerous as being a punt returner is, you always have the option to wave the guys off. Kickoff returns, people describe as a train wreck waiting to happen, bodies are flying everywhere. You've had some pretty tough injuries. Correct me if I'm wrong, you tore your MCL the year before your record-setting season as a punt returner?
DS: Yeah, I sprained or tore it, whatever the consensus was -- I'm not a hundred percent sure. But I was in a redshirt that season. I played the last four games of my freshman year because we had so many injuries to the receiver spot that they had to pull me off of the redshirt. I probably would have missed the first four or five games if I would have come looking to play right away. I've had some freak injuries also. The freak injuries, it's one of those things that it's not from getting hit head-on or whatever, but I know what you're getting at with the kickoff return. At times you're going to take a hard hit, that's why it's important to really study ways to avoid that. Maybe you study the blocks better or not run full-speed right into a guy. I look at guys like Dante Hall who are similar size and are having success at. Guys like that are great to learn from -- what they're doing to avoid injuries and still have success.
Q: You talk about freak injuries. Is that the category your elbow injury would fall under?
DS: The elbow was definitely the freakiest of my injuries. I could have come down on it a hundred times and the one time I come down on it wrong. I look back at it and think I don't know how I could have done this. You never think when you go down that your elbow's going to pop up the opposite way. I've recovered from that and have not let it affect me so far.
Q: And your collarbone fracture?
DS: The collarbone was a takeout shot. It was a bowl game and the team we were playing was sending some headhunters out. I was on the backside of a route, I was running an inside slant, the ball was being rolled out the other way and the safety came down and put his helmet right into my collarbone and broke it. It was one of those where I was looking for the ball and it was a cheap shot. But you know, that's the game. It wasn't like I was carrying the ball or was ready for a pass, it was the backside, the ball was being thrown the other way. It was a clear, pretty planned out hit. That's the game and I learned from that as much as I learned from any of my other injuries.
Q: I bring up your injuries because I've been really impressed by your ability to rebound from these injuries, the toughness you've shown, and how it hasn't phased your game. I think your greatest story out of all of them is the first one I brought up: You tear your MCL and yet a year later you're leading the NCAA in returns average. That's phenomenal.
DS: I came back and played that same year. That was the first time I'd ever been injured and missed any football games. The most important one was my elbow injury. The elbow injury taught me that I need to put so much more time into training. It taught me I need to have myself in the best physical shape. Missing those games during my elbow surgery when we were having such a successful season was the hardest thing I've gone through. That taught me how important it was and to not take anything for granted. Anytime you get to go out there on that field and you're healthy and running around there, don't take it for granted because I guarantee it's much worse sitting there and watching.
Q: Let's talk about your experience as a collegiate player waiting to see where you would land last year. Do you remember which teams were showing interest in you going into the draft period.
DS: Yeah the Colts, Cardinals, Bears, Eagles, Giants, Vikings, and a few others. I think I had twelve or thirteen maybe fourteen offers to sign as a free agent. The collarbone break hurt my chances and I tried to make it to the Combine sooner than I should have. And I ended up re-injuring the collarbone at the Combine going down for a catch. After that happened it pretty much insured that whatever draft status I might have had going into it was injured as well. The Colts and the Cardinals seemed to be two of the best opportunities I thought I had as far as the punt returning. Last year we saw the Cardinals didn't have a punt returner on the team and thought that might be the best situation and went with that.
Q: So the Colts actually made you an offer last year as an undrafted free agent last year?
Q: What level of interest were they showing prior to that? Did you have any idea before they called you that day that they were taking a good look at you?
DS: I knew they were interested by the way the scout in my area talked to me and the interest he showed at the Combine. Because of that collarbone break and trying to get back in a short timeframe, I had a real uphill climb and it didn't turn out quite the way I would have hoped as far as recovering from the injury. I re-injured the same collarbone because it wasn't completely healed and I thought I could pull a "Superman" and do everything. After that, I knew the draft would be a little less rewarding than I thought it would be. I was still confident I'd have some opportunities to join the team.
Q: Talk a little bit about your experience with Arizona, what it was like to play there -- and how you ended up on the practice squad, because I think you had a pretty good training camp didn't you?
DS: Yeah, I started off real well. I was competing with one other guy and had a pretty good average, I had around a ten-yard average in training camp and one good return for twenty or twenty-five yards I think. The other guy ended up getting injured and put on the injured reserve and after that the media came up and they told me they had named me the starter, but before that last game they brought somebody else in. There were no punts in that game, but they put him back there and he caught one or two, so I never got my opportunity to catch punts in that game. It was kind of disappointing cause I thought I was doing well and I thought I might have been given the opportunity, but that's also the NFL. You have to overcome those situations and just keep playing hard. They asked me if I wanted to sign to the practice squad, and I thought having been there all summer and all season that I'd have a good opportunity of getting called up if there was an injury or if something else happened. It didn't work out quite the way I'd planned, and I found out I had the opportunity to come out here and I thought it was a perfect fit. And the situation here worked out really well. So far I like the decision I've made, and I like the fit on this team and the people -- the whole situation I'm in, the coaching staff, the way things run out here, I'm just really impressed with it. I'm really enjoying my time and I hope I can make things work here.
Q: How has it been working with (special teams coach) Russ Purnell? Are you finding him to be a coach that's been able to give you some help since you've got there?
DS: Oh yeah, I enjoy the time with Coach Purnell. I think he's a very well-informed and well-educated coach. He's had many successful players underneath him and has coached for many years. I've gone in there and talked to him a few times and he's shown me some improvements, little tweaks here and there, and I try to do the best I can to adjust my game to those. The things he's told me -- like certain ways to approach the ball -- have helped, especially on kickoff return, pointers like catching the ball coming forward. I like him a lot, I think he's a good coach, and I hopefully will be able to work with him a lot more.
Q: At the time you came in the job was pretty much wide open. And now that you've been there for a little while and the draft has come and undrafted free agents have come in, the Colts have brought in a fair number of guys who will be competing for the return spots. How are you feeling about that after coming in and pretty much being the heir apparent if they didn't bring Troy Walters back?
DS: In actuality I think the year of experience I've had I think will really help. I've been in the NFL, I know how things work. Maybe last year I wasn't as ready as I thought I was, and maybe that's the situation with some of the young guys. The guys they brought in are good athletes and the thing is they didn't draft anybody really high. I feel I should have an equal opportunity to compete and win the job as any one of them. I hope the experience I bring and some of the success I've had will give me a little edge. I've been working hard at it, and I've been doing this for many years now. And I think that could help out as well.
Q: Who are some of the guys on the team, now that you've been there for a little while, that you find yourself gravitating towards, spending some leisure time with and striking up friendships with?
DS: All the guys here are really good people. I hang out quite a bit with Gabe Nyenhuis. Gabe and I grew up ten minutes away from each other. As far as receivers, I spend a lot of time with John Standeford. We've played a few rounds of golf together and spent so much time together as receivers that we've created a little bond as well. As far as the other guys, there's so many good guys that I've hung out with. Ryan Diem, being Northern Illinois guys, it's been great being around him. The reputation he had at Northern only preceded what I came to find here -- that he's a great person as well as football player. I really enjoy the people here. They work hard and they're dedicated and they're good people; not only on the field but off the field as well.
Q: Is there anything else I can share with Colts fans that you don't think we've covered?
DS: I'm glad and proud to be a Colt right now and hopefully we can give these fans something else to cheer for with the many, many talented players on this team. Maybe I can sneak in there and give them a little extra. I appreciate the support I've seen so far being a Colt, and it's great to have the fans that they have here.