Sanders, Freeney Participate in First Practice at Lucas Oil Stadium
INDIANAPOLIS – Dwight Freeney knew what he wanted to do first.
This was late Tuesday morning, the Colts' first practice at the new, state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis and the season's first practice for Freeney – the Colts' three-time Pro Bowl defensive end – and two-time Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders.
Freeney hadn't worked in pads since last November, when he sustained a season-ending LisFranc injury in his foot on a spin move on a rainy night in San Diego, Cal.
So, when Freeney had a chance to rush the passer Tuesday, he figured there was only one way to do it.
He rushed. And he spun.
And best of all, he said, he felt fine.
"It was just to get it out of the way, and it felt good," Freeney said in the early afternoon after the Colts returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"It felt good – smooth."
Such was the mood for both Sanders and Freeney, two of the Colts' most high-profile defensive players, each of whom had yet to practice in training camp while rehabilitating from surgery.
"It was good, exciting – especially getting back on the field in a brand-new stadium," said Sanders, last season's Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year who underwent offseason shoulder surgery.
"The first time stepping back out to me is great. I feel great about it. It was good to get back around my teammates and go through a practice and not be standing on the sidelines, running and wishing I was out there.
"It definitely felt good to be back out there."
The return to practice of Sanders and Freeney came the same day eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning made his first appearance at practice this season after undergoing surgery to remove an infected bursa sac from his knee shortly before training camp.
"Any time you get all the guys on the field at one time – whether they are practicing or not – when you're all together, it feels good," Sanders said. "Once we get everybody back, we feel like we have a great team here. It's always exciting when guys come back and are able to go back and be themselves and help this team try to continue to grow and win.
"So today was an exciting time to see everybody out there and enjoying the moment together."
Freeney said he was particularly excited.
Freeney, who made the Pro Bowl from 2003-2005 and led the NFL in 2004, said he hadn't been so long without being in pads since at least high school.
"I felt almost like a rookie again," the seventh-year veteran said. "For me, it's been so long. It felt good. I was excited to be back with the guys."
Freeney said he didn't know if he will play against the Buffalo Bills in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night, and said he wouldn't necessarily need to play either of the final two preseason games to be ready to play in the season-opener against Chicago.
"As long as I get the reps during these practice times – six to eight reps during a preseason game is not really going to get me further along than practice," he said. "Practice is where you get all your reps at and where you get right.
"I'm close. I'm definitely good enough to go out and compete and play. Now, what percentage is that? Who knows? Ninety-five? Ninety-seven? I don't know, but I think the more that I'm out there the next two weeks, the closer I'll get.
"I think I'm fine now. But I should definitely be ready in three weeks when it's time to line up on Sunday."
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Freeney rushed the pass four times late in practice during two-minute drills and looked as he did before the injury.
"When it first happened, I was shocked," Freeney said. "I couldn't believe not being out there, not being with the team, not going to practice the next day. Throughout the course of rehab, it's very imant you stay positive and focused on the end goal of getting back out there. You have those days where you're like, 'Man, this is bad – real bad.' In the beginning, you can't move your foot. You keep looking at it. You can't recognize it.
"It started getting better week by week by week to where I'm at where I can actually compete on it."