INDIANAPOLIS –Last Sunday in Chicago linebacker Dwight Freeney limped off the field with an injured ankle early in the game.
This Sunday, that ankle will keep him out of the club's home opener against Minnesota. Head Coach Chuck Pagano on Friday said Freeney will be out of Sunday's game.
"Dwight is out. It's an ankle. He's day-to-day," said Pagano. "You know, someone's going to step up and fill in. (We) hate not playing with Dwight (Freeney).
"He's missed time in the past. I'm sure the coaching staff and his coaches before me felt the same way. You've got a player of his caliber that's not on the field. That always hurts. That's like not having Pat (Angerer). We'd all love to have Pat Angerer out there every snap. Injuries happen, so it's next man up."
Just as Jerrell Freeman has filled in for Angerer, it will be up to Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Justin Hickman to sub for Freeney. It is something Pagano addressed earlier in the week.
"It's like I've said many times before. We tell all these guys, 'You're one ankle away, one chin strap, one whatever from going in.' Everybody is going to prepare like a starter on both sides of the ball and special teams," said Pagano. "You never know. As long as they prepare that way, whether he's ready or not, Jerry (Hughes), Mario (Addison) or (Justin Hickman) will be ready to go."
Additionally, the first-year head coach said wide receiver Austin Collie is doubtful to play. Collie has been recovering from a concussion suffered in week two of preseason at Pittsburgh.
"He was cleared (and) had a great day on Wednesday, then came in on Thursday morning and wasn't quite feeling 100 percent. We deferred to the doctors," said Pagano. "They felt like it'd be best for Austin to sit out the next couple days of practice. Again, we always err on the side of caution, listen to the doctors, and we'll go from there. He's doubtful."
Pagano said tackle Winston Justice has felt good all week, and he and Justice feel positive about Sunday.
"He went the last two days, he's still questionable, but anticipating," said Pagano. "He's been getting better every day, feeling great out there. (I) anticipate him being ready and able to go. We'll list him as questionable, but he's looked good the last couple days."
Sunday will be the home opener for Pagano. Coming from Baltimore where over his four years the Ravens won 84 percent of the time (27-5, .844), Pagano wants to establish that firm presence in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"You've got to take advantage of home field," said Pagano. "You want to keep the streak alive, so to speak. We do have a small one running (counting two preseason wins), but you've got to win your home games. I told them early on, 'You win your home games and split on the road you're probably going to make the playoffs every year.' There may be an exception here or there, but you've got to win your home games.
"We've got a great fan base, great venue in Lucas Oil to play in. It's paramount that we go out, start fast, play extremely well and get a win. I felt like we had an excellent week of practice in preparation for this ballgame. I thought the guys came in and did a nice job of putting the last ballgame behind them and then moving forward. We had three great days of practice."
Pagano will be going up against Leslie Frazier's Vikings on Sunday. Frazier served as a defensive assistant with the Colts in 2005-06. Frazier will not miss seeing Freeney on Sunday, but he knows that is only one-half of the destructive force he saw while in Indianapolis.
"Dwight is one of those game wreckers. He has been for a long, long time," said Frazier. "I witnessed him just destroying offenses' game plans and people just changing their game plans because of Dwight. To not have Dwight on the field, it would definitely change how offenses approach you. It would change how we would approach the Colts if he didn't play. That's just the way it is. He's that dominant of a player, even at this stage of his career.
"I don't think Robert (Mathis) gets his just due. He's a terrific talent in his own right. He has finally begun to get some recognition, but not to the point that I think he deserves. He's a tremendous talent, a guy who is sometimes in the shadow of Dwight (Freeney), but opposing teams know they have to have a plan for Robert. They've known for a number of years. I admired his talents when I was there. He's a very soft-spoken guy. He's not a guy who looks and seeks the headlines, but opposing teams know you better have a plan for Robert Mathis when you line up and play the Colts."
Something needed for the Colts on Sunday is the impact of a running game. The club held a 4.2 average at Chicago last week, but the deficit on the scoreboard limited how often the Colts could stay on the ground.
Running back Donald Brown had 48 yards on nine rushes, including two 18-yard bursts, one going for a touchdown. Pagano is comfortable with Brown and his abilities.
"I felt really confident going into the first ballgame, just watching him in the preseason and through training camp and the whole offseason. He's prepared extremely well," said Pagano. "We've talked about the offensive system that he came from in college, being very similar to this one. The runs that we use with Donald in the game fit him and fit him well.
"When we get a hat on a hat like we talked about before, he's able to put a foot in the ground and get north and south. If he gets out in open space and he can beat that first guy, he's going to be hard to catch and bring down."
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians knows the key to unleashing Brown is in early-down production. Keeping third downs manageable can help the attack immensely.
"I don't think Donald had a negative play in the running game," said Arians. "We've just got to keep hammering it. Our second-down offense was poor. We were probably in second-and-five or less trying to get it to third-and-two or three, and we end up third-and-eight. That can't happen. That will get you out of running the ball a little bit as a play-caller, so I've got to watch myself in that situation. We've got to do a better job of just solidifying the front and getting what's there. When we had a nice little rhythm going, he was running the ball really well."