Following the club’s first two preseason games of 2011, Freeney has been quick to caution observers against placing too much emphasis on the results.
Freeney is one of many with the team who have great personal and professional pride, but who also know training camp and the early games are as much for finding out about the quality of personnel than for measuring the team solely by scoreboard results.
As the preseason calendar reaches game three, however, Freeney and the team are taking a different mindset.
“I think we are preparing like it’s a normal week,” said Freeney. “For at least two or three quarters the starters should be in there. The third game is an indicator the season is coming. The fourth game, obviously, is a bigger indicator. Everybody is expecting too much too soon sometimes. You want us to blow teams out in the preseason. That’s not what we’re out there to do. We’re out there to get better, whatever that is, get those young guys in there to see who can play.”
Freeney was one of those ‘young guys’ a few years back. Now as he has grown into a six-time Pro Bowler, he has seen the importance of young faces and new teammates becoming contributors. In most seasons, it strictly is younger players. This year, some of the new players do not fit that category. Indianapolis has added veteran defensive talent in Tyler Brayton, Tommie Harris, Jamaal Anderson and Ernie Sims. Though Sims has been slowed by an appendectomy and Harris has missed a portion of action as well, Freeney hopes this Friday’s game against Green Bay provides a chance for teammates to get a good dose of the system.
“I think we have to get guys used to the system,” Freeney said. “We have some new guys in the system, and we also have some young guys that we have to get ready. We have to get the young guys old and the old guys young. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
As for himself?
“I think I’m pretty much in a good spot” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a little bit. It’s kind of like a clock. Right now, I’m right on time toward where I want to be physically and running in my steps and things of that nature.”
Freeney and the defensive front-liners saw more action against Washington last week than they did in the August 13 preseason opener at St. Louis. In both games, however, the club started slowly and faced significant halftime deficits. Indianapolis trailed at St. Louis, 23-3, and exited the Lucas Oil Stadium playing field last Friday night at intermission down 16-0.
Last week, in particular, while the defense did force three field goals with red zone stops, the unit had trouble stopping Redskins rushers. This week, Freeney and his teammates want to correct that problem. Leaky tackling never is something a defender wants to witness.
“I think that never changes. You want to be able to wrap up (the opponent),” said Freeney. “I don’t care if it’s the first preseason game or a practice game, you want to go out and stop teams. (Washington) scored only 16 points and everybody wants to say, ‘It’s all doom and gloom.’ Sixteen points is a good number, but it could have been a lot lower. We could have played a lot better, and that’s what preseason’s about.”
While the first two preseason games began answering personnel questions, the last two games are very, very important in shaping the roster. Freeney knows the significance each remaining game has.
“I think every preseason game is important,” he said. “I think the fourth preseason game is more important for those guys who really want to make that team because you’ll have more time to do so. The third game, at least for our system, is really to get those starters going and getting that rhythm back.”
Freeney long has been among the club’s strictest practitioners of body maintenance, particularly as it relates to diet. Now deep into his career, Freeney does not mind a change in routine as he conditions his body.
“I think it (his regimen) changes. I know for me, I have to keep it interesting,” he said. “I have to keep changing what I’m doing. I can’t just get on a treadmill and run a few miles. I’d lose my mind with boredom. If you tell me to run up a hill or trick me, it’s a little better for me. I think the older you get, you kind of know what you need to work on. If your hamstring is a little bit weak or if something happened in year’s past, you kind of cater your training toward strengthening certain parts of your game. It has helped me the last few years.”
While outside observers have focused on every aspect of the team during camp and preseason play, Freeney said the defense’s only worry is about things it can address personally.
“We’re worried about what we need to worry about…You go out there and have to do your job,” said Freeney. “You can’t worry about things you have no control over. You can only worry about things you have control over…When we go out, we try to do the same thing. We go out there trying to get three-and-outs and try to keep teams from scoring. It’s isn’t who we’re playing…We’re fighting out there.”
As for the moment, Freeney isn’t comfortable. He wants to see rhythm on Friday as he and his starting teammates prepare for more than 30 minutes of action.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Freeney. “It’s kind of hard to say we like where we are now. We haven’t really played what I consider well, but it’s a work in progress. That’s what preseason is for. That’s what practice is for.”