A Question-Answer Session with Colts Defensive End Dwight Freeney
Defensive end Dwight Freeney, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and a seven-year NFL veteran, is the Colts' career sacks leader with 62. He also holds the team record for sacks in a season with 16, a record he set in 2004, his third NFL season. A veteran player with a knack for the big play, Freeney – the Colts' No. 11 overall selection in the NFL 2002 Draft from Syracuse University – set an NFL rookie record by forcing nine fumbles in '02. He had 14 forced fumbles in four seasons at Syracuse and has 32 in six-plus NFL seasons. Widely considered one of the NFL's elite pass rushers, Freeney missed the last seven games of last season with a foot injury, returning in time to start the first three games of this season. He had a sack in each of the first two games, and this week sat down with Colts.com to discuss his return, his mindset at this stage of his career and how he has changed in six NFL seasons.
Question: How have you changed since you were drafted – not necessarily on the field, but as a person – in your approach?
A: The older you get, you have to really pay attention to details and the fact that in the game, if you're a student of the game, you become a better player and help the team a lot more than just basing it on athleticism and pure, raw talent. That can only take you so far the older you get. When you're younger, you can get away with a lot of stuff maybe based on your talent. Maybe, when you were younger you didn't know some things that if you would have known . . . you could have made a heck of a lot more plays.
Q: When you were younger, did that happen at times? Did you rely just on athletic ability sometimes?
A: I won't say, 'Just on,' because I was a student of the game, but there's a different level now. You have been playing for years now and experience speaks for itself. When you're young, you're out there and you have energy and all of that, but you don't know. You think you know and you go out there, but you don't know until you experience it. Then, you start experiencing it a little bit and then you understand. The more you experience something, the better you get at it. The quicker you read something, the better you feel something . . . Maybe the athleticism is not what it used to be, but you make up for it in experience and knowing what's going on in the game.
Q: But at your age, you likely don't feel you've reached a point where you're strictly relying on savvy and experience . . .
A: I'm just talking more in general. The game has changed a little bit for me from that standpoint in just being a smarter football player, just knowing a little more of what's going on and being more of a student of the game.
Q: It seemed early on in your career if you went a couple of games without a sack, it drove you crazy. Do you accept a little more now that sometimes you can't control your statistics, the numbers?
A: (Smiling) Just a little bit, not much. It still drives me crazy, but I understand sometimes you're not going to get it. If they throw the ball six times, seven times – you want to maximize opunities, but most people won't get a sack on seven attempts or eight attempts or 12 attempts passing. It just is what it is. I've learned how teams like to block us over the years. Now, it's not a surprise seeing certain game plans. I've seen it all. There's nothing else you can throw at me I haven't seen. That surprise factor is gone.
Q: Are you a different pass rusher now than six years ago?
A: Yes. I am. A little bit. I had to cater my style to more attention. If I know there's somebody outside chipping on me, or if I know the tight end's going to block, or if I know the guard's going to be there, I might do different moves now than I used to. When I was younger, I didn't get that much attention – as much attention – as I get now. Now, it's, 'OK, if you're going to leave me one-on-one with this guy, I have a plethora of moves I can do, and I'm just going to do this.' Now, I know pretty much what's happening and what they're going to be doing.
Q: When you look at a guy like former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, or a Hall of Famer such as the late Reggie White – guys who played your position for a decade and a half or more – can you see yourself doing that?
A: Part of me yes and part of me no. I think yes from a standpoint of love of the game and loving to play this game. And then a part of me . . . I don't know. You never know what's going to happen. I had a foot (injury last year) and from year to year, it might change to something else. It might change to a shoulder, God forbid, or something else. The thing is, it's how much more beating do you want to take on your body. You just don't know what's going to happen from year to year. Especially if you're seeing the double-teams and the chips. It would be one thing if I was one-on-one for eight or nine years. When you're seeing this pounding and the double-teams and the chips and stuff like that every year. They add up physically. It's not just, 'Oh, Dwight only had this many sacks this year,' it's, 'He's been getting killed on the chips and he's been getting killed on the double-teams – constant, constant banging.' It's like a full-speed bang. It's different if you're on the line and get double-teamed, but when you're running full speed . . .
Q: So your admiration for a guy like Strahan must be off the charts . . .
A: It's amazing to be able to play at that level and to be able to do it for as long as he has done it. He has had a heck of a lot of attention over his years, so for him, it's different. But it's also different from their scheme standpoint because they blitz a lot. They do other things. Here, it's all four down linemen have to beat six (offensive lineman) or four down linemen have to beat seven. Once in a blue moon we might mix in a blitz, but for the most part, it's us four versus their seven.
Q: How much pride did you take in coming back from your injury? There were people in December, after you were out for the season, saying, "Can he come back?"
A: I take a lot of pride, but that's something that's understood with me. I don't get into he said, she said – the rumor mill, the Freeney's Not Going to Be the Same . . . I've seen that from the day I came into the league. I heard, 'Undersized guy at the 11th pick – what are they doing that for? He's only a situational guy, at best. He's not going to be on the field. He can't play the run. He can't do this. He can't do that.' I've always heard it – in college, coming in from high school. It's like, 'OK. Keep on telling me I can't do something.' I heard it, but I'm not paying attention to that. I know what I'm capable of, even though this is an injury that obviously wasn't very familiar to me. All the doctor said was, 'You'll be back 100 percent.' That's all I had to hear. Before he even had to tell me, I had felt that way, but once he said it, what everybody else was saying didn't make any sense to me. If I say, 'OK, I'm going to be back 100 percent, and then the doctor says to me, 'Dwight, your foot is in great shape. It's better and structurally perfect. You'll be back at 100 percent' – why would I care or listen to anybody?
Q: When you watch football, who do you like to watch rush the passer?
A: I'm my own, unique guy. I'll be honest with you. There's no guy that I sit there and say, 'Oh, he plays like me.' If anything, I'm the one who kind of led the torch as far as my game play, how I play. So people mimic how I play more or less. They play how I play rather than me playing how they play. No one used to really do the chop spin. Now, you're seeing it all over the place. You're seeing it in video games and you're seeing it in other stuff. I was pretty much the guy who really brought that in as a move and the guy who does it.
Q: You did grow up following Lawrence Taylor. You were a New York Giants fans and he was your guy, right?
A: I idolized LT. I sat there and watched every game. I watched how he played the game. I loved him from a motor standpoint, running from sideline to sideline, making plays. It didn't matter if one guy, two guys, three guys were blocking him. He was going to still try to make the play. I got that from him – just going out there and being relentless, going for the strip. I got that from him. When he went for the ball, he not only was trying to make the tackle, he was trying to make the strip. I've done that every time. I don't know statistically where I rank in caused fumbles, but I'm sure up there in the lead over my seven years.
Q: But when you first came in in '02, people didn't think a guy your size -- a "speed" guy – could be a full-time end. Now, there's a trend toward that. People are trying to find Dwight Freeneys.
A: Exactly. That's another thing I take pride in. Now, you're seeing guys like me getting drafted a little bit lower – smaller guys, agile guys. It's not about the 6-feet-6, 280-pound guy now. It's about the guy who can make plays and is productive. In '02, it was, 'This guy is undersized, this that and the other.' I said, 'All right. That's great. Put me on the field. Let me put my hand on the ground and see how many plays I'll make, how I'll help this team win.' It's always been that way. It's all about production, going out there. Sometimes, the numbers aren't there, but the effectiveness is there. I think if you ask any offensive coordinator, they'll tell you the same. Sometimes, I may not make that play. I may not get that sack based on the fact that they bring a lot of attention my way, but I'm sure I lead the league in pressures by far. Pressures are one step away.
Q: Final question. Are you still getting better?
A: That's one thing I love about this game. You always can get better. You can continue to tailor your game. I continue to tailor my game based on what is going on and how my body and my career evolves. I can move with that. When I first got in the league, I was a speed guy. Now, I can do a little bit more. Maybe I add a couple of new moves. Maybe I pick up a martial art and next year, I'm doing all kinds of different stuff. That's the beauty of the game because you can continue to get better and you can continue to improve, especially with our scheme. There are always things I can do to get better, which excites me every single year.