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Freddy Keiaho, a third-year veteran, became a starter at weakside linebacker last season, when the Colts' defense emerged as one of the top young units in the NFL. He said he and the defense each can improve next season.


Keiaho Says Last Season Only Beginning for Himself, Colts Defense

INDIANAPOLIS – As far as Freddy Keiaho sees it, last year was a start.

A good start, yes.

But to Keiaho, that's all it was. A start.

Keiaho, a third-year veteran, became a starter at weakside linebacker for the Colts last season, and at times, he said he was healthy, confident and played well. At the same time, the Colts' defense emerged as one of the top young units in the NFL.

There were plenty of positives last season, Keiaho said, for himself and the defense. There were plenty of strides made. But Keiaho said something else is just as true:

The defense can get better. And so can he.

Much, much better.

"The difference in the comfort level between this year and last year is night and day," Keiaho said during the Colts' organized training activities, 14 days of onfield workouts that concluded recently at the team's training facility.

"I'm pretty sure that's true for everybody across the board."

Which is why Keiaho said he's looking forward to next season.

Not only does he believe he can improve, he believes the Colts' defense is young enough – with five players entering their second seasons as starters – to improve dramatically in 2008.

"I think we're just going to be that much better on defense," Keiaho said. "Last year was a great building year. When you think about it, we had two bad games. Unfortunately, one of them was the San Diego game (a 28-24 loss in an AFC Divisional Playoff game).

"We have a lot to build on."

Keiaho said the same is true for himself.

A third-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, Keiaho played sparingly as a rookie, appearing in 14 games as a reserve and special teams player, making nine tackles while forcing two fumbles.

Keiaho, who played collegiately at San Diego State, took over as a starter last season after the free-agency departure of former Pro Bowl selection Cato June. He started 11 games and registered 101 tackles, 58 solos.

He also had a half a sack, an interception and two passes defensed.

"Freddy played real well for us," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "He had an elbow that was sore all year. I think the guy we saw the first couple of weeks – you add that experience and get him back 100 percent healthy, he has a chance to have a dynamite year."

Said Keiaho, "I expect big things from myself. I just feel more comfortable. I did it last year and now I know what I can do. I was good when I was good and there were times I was bad when I was bad. It's just a matter of maximizing your good plays and minimizing your bad plays."

Keiaho said he not only played through injuries last season, but also learned what he said was a valuable lesson about late- and post-season preparation.

"Last year was unfortunate," he said. "I built up some momentum, then got the injury in preseason. I got some good momentum going, then played with one arm for a couple of games, then got the head injury and was out for another three games (in October and November). I put together some pretty good games. (A mid-December game in) Oakland was probably the best game I had in the season. We were kind of on cruise control then.

"That's one thing l learned too. That was my first year as a starter and I fell into that lull mode where, 'Oh, these games don't matter and we're trying to get healthy.' I didn't do the routine I had established the weeks prior to that, the film study and everything. That's one of the big things I picked up – just keep your routine the whole season.

"It's one of those things where you can tell me, but I have to do it for myself. Your parents tell you do to do things when you're a kid and you hate doing it. By the time you get to college, you're thanking your parents for making you do that."

That's the sort of experience Keiaho said much of the Colts' defense gained last season. The unit ranked third in the NFL in total defense with Keiaho, cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and defensive tackle Ed Johnson in their first-season as full-time starters.

Rookie defensive tackles Quinn Pitcock and Keyunta Dawson also played extensively as rookies, rookie cornerback Dante Hughes played extensively at nickelback and Antoine Bethea made the Pro Bowl in his second season.

"We started the season great," Keiaho said. "Ed Johnson stepped up and we had some injuries to the defensive line, which forced a lot of other guys to step up. Keyunta Dawson and Quinn Pitcock got a lot of experience. Their development has been excellent."

At linebacker, Keiaho said a year of playing as a unit with Hagler and middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett also will be critical.

"Gary wasn't used to playing with me," Keiaho said. "A lot of the guys weren't familiar with each other. The chemistry we built up through the season is building now, and it's just building through camp.

"Nobody expected anything from us last year. If you think about it, we had a bunch of no-name guys. This year, we do have a chance of being special. Statistically, maybe we won't be as good, but I think overall, we'll be a better unit. I don't think you can base it on stats.

"I think we're better now than we were a year ago."

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