INDIANAPOLIS – High noon on Thursday spelled the end of the Colts' three-day, five-practice voluntary mini-camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney worked on-field for the first time during the camp, joining other defensive mates in learning a new system being installed by new Head Coach Chuck Pagano.
Pagano joined Indianapolis from Baltimore on January 25, bringing with him a scheme that historically performed well. Baltimore (288.9) had the NFL's third-rated defense in 2011, second against the rush (92.6) and fourth against the pass (196.3). The Ravens finished third in the league in scoring defense (16.6) for the fourth straight season, tying the NFL mark for consecutive seasons ranking in the top three points allowed. Baltimore's 48 sacks ranked behind 50 by Philadelphia and Minnesota. The Ravens finished first in red zone defense (38.1 TD percent), opponent quarterback rating (68.8), fewest offensive touchdowns allowed (21) and fewest touchdown passes permitted (11). The Ravens ranked second in third-down defense (32.1 percent) and held nine of 16 regular season opponents to 17 or fewer points. The team had four players voted as Pro Bowl starters – linebacker Terrell Suggs, linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Suggs had 14 sacks and a team-record and NFL-high seven forced fumbles.
Dwight Freeney (102.5 career sacks; 43 forced fumbles) and Robert Mathis (83.5 sacks; 39 forced fumbles) are the two top sack producers in Colts history, and each is being asked to play new roles in the scheme. On Thursday, Freeney noted the process.
"It's going to be interesting. It's fun right now, at least, just doing something different," said Freeney. "I've been doing one way for 10 years now. It's kind of fun to kind of do something different.
"It's a proven system, though. Guys have made a lot of plays. I talked to Ray (Lewis), I talked to Ed (Reed) a little bit. They love him (Pagano). They love the system. They said, 'You're going to love it.' It's kind of a rush-friendly type of scheme, which I love. It's going to be fun. It's going to be interesting. It's early. You have to work out the bugs, which I'm doing."
Dropping into coverage is something Freeney estimated he did less than 10 times in his first five years, but not since then. He acknowledged an adaption process in his new role.
"There's going to be a learning curve. It's definitely something that is going to start off slow, real slow for me (laughs), but I think it's going to pick up," said Freeney. "I understand the game of football, so I understand those things. It shouldn't be too tough, as long as you don't have me covering Andre Johnson (of Houston), or someone like that."
Freeney found a pass coming his way in the Thursday practice. Used to separating a quarterback from the ball, he was not as accustomed to seeing the ball come his way. The ball hit the ground after it hit Freeney.
"That was funny," said Freeney. "The ball came right to me. I was like, 'Why is the ball coming to me?' (I was) like, 'Get away from me.' It's definitely going to be interesting and fun."
New Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky knows the installation is in its early stages and players are under the gun.
"It's early. The best thing is the effort they're giving, across the board I think is great," said Manusky. "I think the transition is going to be slow to start, especially (this) being the first three days on the field. They keep on seeing the same picture and get comfortable with it. They'll keep on going.
"They (Freeney and Mathis) know football, which is the most important thing. That's the biggest thing. In regard to their stance and their footwork and what they're actually seeing from a two-point stance, it's a little bit different for them."
Freeney was upbeat following practice, joining Mathis who earlier has commented on both the changes and the opportunities the new scheme creates. Manusky is pleased to hear of their attitude.
"That's good to hear from a coordinator's position," said Manusky. "Across the board, we're going to try to put those guys in the best situation, be it them rushing the passer and them sometimes dropping (in coverage). We're trying to put them in the position of what they do the best. Their skills are to pass rush, and that's what we're looking for them to do."
Freeney is in the last year of a contract. When asked his status, Freeney said he is committed to the club that drafted him in 2002.
"I'm here, and I'm under contract," said Freeney. "That's pretty much what it is. We'll see what happens after this year. I'm committed, and I'm a Colt, that's it."