After Missing Last Seven Games of 2007, Freeney Says He Feels Healthy Early
INDIANAPOLIS – Dwight Freeney liked what he saw.
Freeney, the Colts' three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, said this week he was relatively pleased following the regular-season opener Sunday – his first real game after what he has said was the longest layoff his football career.
Then, he saw the tape from the game.
He saw himself and he saw a player with good speed. He saw a player getting good pressure.
He saw a player not much different than the one who had 60 career sacks before sustaining a season-ending foot injury against the San Diego Chargers last November, an injury that cost him the last seven games of the season and kept him out until midway through the preseason.
Seeing those things, Freeney said, was a good sign. A very good sign.
"I felt good," Freeney said this week as the Colts (0-1), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I was excited. I hadn't played since November, so for me, I just had to make sure I was on my 'A' game. I went out there and I played well."
Freeney, who missed the first two and a half weeks of training camp, played just one preseason game – the preseason home opener on August 24 against the Buffalo Bills – then started in the regular-season opener against the Bears Sunday.
Before the regular-season opener, he jokingly said it was his first game back, saying he didn't really count the preseason game.
He started against the Bears, played 30-to-35 plays, and recorded a sack and several first-half pressures. On one first-half play that nearly resulted in an interception by cornerback Kelvin Hayden, Freeney hit quarterback Kyle Orton a moment after he threw. Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said had it been an interception, Freeney would have received credit for an interception forced.
"Dwight was rolling and had the game turned into a passing game for them, he would have had a big night," Dungy said. "He was close on four or five other ones. That part of his game seems to be coming back.
"He'll get better as we go, but it was good to see him back."
Said Freeney, "I think I played well. There were some things I wasn't happy with, and some plays I wish I made, but that's every game."
This week, Freeney said he responded well physically, which he said is a good sign considering he hadn't played what he considered a real game in nearly 10 months.
"I still felt good," he said. "I was a little sore, which was to be expected – not doing anything – but I should bounce back, which should be good."
Particularly for a young line that got less experienced this week with the waiving of tackle Ed Johnson, the only Colts defensive linemen to start 16 games a season ago. Freeney's presence, defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson said, not only gives the Colts one of the league's top pass rushers, it means the return of the Colts defensive linemen who – along with tackle Raheem Brock – has the most NFL experience.
"It was cool," Dawson said of Freeney's return. "We missed him last year after the injury and everything. I was cool to see him back out. I know he was happy. It's good for the defensive line, to have that veteran leadership out there. It helps everybody out. Sometimes, it takes some of the attention away from some of us other 'D' lineman. It helps us all out, then he sees some things we don't see all the time.
"Especially with the second-year guys and some of the younger 'D' linemen, he helps them see some of the formations."
Freeney said what's more imant than sacks this week is recovering from a Week 1 loss to Bears in which the defense allowed 183 yards rushing, falling behind 15-6 at halftime en route to a 29-13 loss. The Colts have been 0-1 just once during Freeney's six seasons – in 2004 – and never has Indianapolis been 0-2 in his career.
"Last week's behind us, and it's a new week," Freeney said. "Is it a different feeling, losing the first game? Oh, yeah, definitely. We usually come out of the box winning. We didn't get that done. This is a new week. You're not going to win the season Week 1. It's about winning week after week after week. If we win the rest, we're not worried about Week 1.
"Oh and two is not even a thought – oh and one wasn't either, but we're going to go out there and perform and play as if it's the next week, like we always do. It's always about the next opponent, which is the Vikings, so we'll go out there and prepare and take it one game at a time."
And as he does, Freeney said he will do so with the knowledge that when it came to last week, he saw what he wanted to see and very much liked what he saw.
"I think I played well," Freeney said. "There were certain plays I wish I made, but I wouldn't call that anything really different from when I left. I think I created a lot of havoc in the backfield. I was on top of the quarterback a couple of times.
"Conditioning was good, so everything kind of worked out. I felt pretty good."