With Brackett Out, Keiaho Assumes Leadership Role at Linebacker
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Things are different for Freddy Keiaho these days.
They're different on the field. And they're different off. They're different during plays, and they're even different between plays during Colts practice, too.
Before, Keiaho was one of several Colts linebackers with experience.
Lately, he's practically the only one.
Which means whereas before Keiaho – a third-year veteran outside linebacker – would have the benefit of six-year veteran middle linebacker and Colts defensive captain Gary Brackett's "advice" between plays, now he's the one doing the "advising."
Keiaho said it certainly makes things a bit different.
And he said he doesn't mind the change.
"I don't have Gary yelling at me and I'm doing part of the yelling," Keiaho said with a smile on Thursday between a pair of Colts 2008 Training Camp practices at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
"I guess that's a little different. There are a lot of young guys and they need to get used to doing things the way we know how to do them on defense. They're coming along all right."
Keiaho, a third-round selection by the Colts in the 2006 NFL Draft, started at outside linebacker for the Colts last season, and entered this year's training camp hoping to continue the improvement made throughout 2007.
Instead, he has been one of the few Colts linebackers to remain healthy throughout camp. With starting outside backer Tyjuan Hagler already out at least the first month of the season, reserve linebackers Clint Session and Philip Wheeler have missed time with injuries, as has Brackett, as well as veteran reserve Victor Worsley.
That, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, gave Keiaho a new role: leader.
"I think Freddy's taken that role on," Dungy said. "Since Gary's been out a little bit, I noticed him trying to keep on the young guys, the young linebackers. He was that way in college, so we kind of expected that. He's done a good job with that."
Keiaho's message to a group of young backers that currently includes second-year veteran Ramon Guzman, rookie Jordan Senn and first-year veterans Kyle Shotwell and Dedrick Harrington is simple.
"It's a great opunity for these guys to get a lot of reps during camp," Keiaho said. "Some teams, if you're the third- or fourth-string guy, you don't get any reps in camp. Guys have a great opportunity."
Keiaho, who played collegiately at San Diego State University, entered camp not thinking as much about leading young players as improving his own game – and trying to get healthy. He was bothered early in camp by a sinus infection, which he said at first slowed him a touch in his quest to continue an improvement that Dungy said was marked last season.
Keiaho, after playing sparingly in 14 games as a rookie, 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.
"I think I'm adjusting pretty well to what we're doing," Keiaho said. "It has taken a while to get acclimated. I came to camp pretty sick. I wasn't playing too well at the beginning. I was a little unfocused. Being here the last two weeks, I've been getting focused and getting healthy."
And Keiaho said despite the rash of injuries to the linebacking corps in preseason and training camp, he won't change his preseason approach.
"I'm the type of guy if I'm out there, I'm going to be practicing," Keiaho said. "I'm not going to hold back anything. I don't think I should. I'll let the coaches take care of that. If they want to give me more rest, that's their prerogative."
Keiaho said playing through the infection "really made me think that how you play when you're not feeling your best is real important. When you're at your worst, you want to play your best. You have to strive for that every time no matter how you feel physically."
Keiaho is one of four players on the Colts' defense entering his second season as a starter. The others are cornerback Marlin Jackson, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and defensive tackle Ed Johnson. Dungy said each of those players has a chance to make marked improvement this season, and said Keiaho's ability to remain healthy during camp has helped toward that end.
"It's been good for him so far to be out at all the practices and be involved and not miss time," Dungy said. "That helps in that leadership capacity as well."
And when it comes to that leadership capacity, Keiaho said while it wasn't something he actively sought during this year's camp, or something he expected, now that it has come he has been ready.
"It should be old hat to me," Keiaho said. "I just have to be refining my skills this camp and thinking more about what offenses are trying to do to me. Gary's our team captain. He's our leader at linebacker. When he's not there, there a void to be filled.
"I don't feel awkward at all filling that void."